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Eagles win ugly over Paladins
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Georgia Southern forward Louis Graham, left, tries to get through Furman's George Brozos for a loose ball during the first half of Saturday's game. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Jeff Price couldn’t have emphasized it more.
    After back-to-back losses, the Georgia Southern men desperately needed to regain some confidence, especially before beginning a two-game road jaunt Monday. It took a half to recuperate from Thursday’s home defeat by Wofford, but the Eagles eventually did, using a second-half surge to down Furman 62-53 Saturday night in front of 4,082 fans — the largest crowd in Hanner Fieldhouse in 16 years.
    “We kept stressing to get that swagger back,” the Eagle coach said. “We were still stinging from Thursday night. We were kind of stunned, and I thought it showed in the game. We didn’t have the confidence and the swagger that we normally have in this building, and it took us a while to get it back.”
    While their offense struggled in the early going, the Eagles (13-7, 6-4 Southern Conference) were glad to know they could rely on their defense, which held the Paladins (3-17, 2-9) to 20.7 percent shooting (6 of 29) in the first half and 32.7 percent (17 of 52) for the game.
    “I thought our defense was great,” Price said. “Our defense held us together. Furman basically did what they had to do to have a chance to come in here and win, and it worked for a while. I knew we’d shoot the ball better in the second half, and we did.”
    Down one at the break, Georgia Southern put Furman away with a 16-3 run to start the second half, including 13 unanswered points highlighted by an alley-oop dunk from 6-foot sophomore guard Antoine Johnson.
    “That broke their back a little bit,” said GSU senior Louis Graham, who finished with a game-high 14 points and 13 rebounds — his fifth double-double this season and 29th of his career. “That sucked the air out of them and jumpstarted our run. Plus it was a guard with the dunk, not a big man. Even the guy guarding him was shocked.”
    The Eagles also made a defensive stand during the second-half surge, frustrating Furman into a shot-clock violation.
    “Coach Price told us to act a fool, deny everything, go crazy, don’t even look at the shot clock and just guard them,” Graham said. “We locked down, and that really helped us.”
    Willie Powers added 12 points for the Eagles while Dwayne Foreman added 10. Three players — Justin Dehm, Darryl Evans and Georgia Brozos — posted 10 points for the Paladins, who’ve lost six of their last seven games and only won twice this month.
    “They are a hard team to guard,” Price said. “They are a motion team, and I thought we really did a good job guarding their motion.”
    Georgia Southern’s offense was lethargic in the first half, hitting just 7 of 27 attempts (25.9 percent). Furman stuck with a zone defense, denying the Eagles inside and forcing them to attempt 23 3s for the game the game.
    “Guys we can’t shoot any worse and be down by one point,” Price told his team in the locker room at the half. “Just keep shooting — they are going to fall.”
    He was right as the Eagles improved their shooting to 47.8 percent after the break.
    Georgia Southern travels to Western Carolina Monday, Chattanooga Thursday and returns home Feb. 4 to host UNC Greensboro.
    “Our defense really stepped up and helped tonight, but coming Monday we’ve got to play the exact same way,” Graham said. “We’ve got to get the game Monday.”
Notes: Johnson made his first start of the season and third of his career. He replaced Powers, who didn’t start because he was accidentally late to practice… It’s was the sixth-largest crowd in Hanner history. “We had a great crowd that really got behind our players, and that was important,” Price said.… Graham’s 13 rebounds tied his season high.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.