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Fields has it, whatever 'it' is
Georgia Southern's Matthew Fields looks for an opening against the College of Charleston earlier this season. Fields and the Eagles return home Thursday, welcoming Wofford at 7:30 p.m. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file
    Dependable, versatile, funny, insightful, unselfish.
    Teammates and coaches of Georgia Southern’s Matthew Fields have no trouble describing the senior, but putting a finger on what exactly makes him so valuable isn’t quite as easy.
    Fields, now fully healthy from a broken foot suffered last season, is a spark in GSU’s starting lineup and a crucial contributor to the Eagles’ second-place standing in the Southern Conference’s South Division.
    “Whatever he does, he just has that ‘it,’” senior Louis Graham said. “You don’t know what ‘it’ is — he just has it. You don’t question it. You just know he’s going to bring it every night. Sometimes I just don’t have it, and Matt gets in there, gets a rebound, blocks a shot or gets a steal.”
    Fields, a Jacksonville native who played his first two seasons at Central Florida Community College, was just beginning to get comfortable in Eagle coach Jeff Price’s scheme when he suffered a major setback last year.
    Shortly before Christmas, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward broke his foot in practice and was forced to sit for six weeks. The timing couldn’t have been much worse — he’d averaged 10.7 points in the three games prior to the injury.
    “It was aching before, but out of nowhere it just broke,” said Fields, who diligently rehabbed and finished the year strong.
    Eagle supporters may have never fully realized how detrimental the loss was to the team, which finished below .500 (15-16) for the first time since Price took over in 1999-2000. The reality of the injury didn’t completely hit his teammates until game time rolled around, Graham said.
    “It changed our whole season,” Price said. “It takes guys a little while to get used to our system, and he was reaching a point where he was just coming on and getting used to (it). And when he went down, that’s when our team went down. It really affected our basketball team — just his intensity and what he brings every single game is so valuable. You can see that now because of what he’s doing this season.”
    This year, Fields is an all-around contributor, averaging 8.7 points a game (tied for third on the team with Dwayne Foreman) and grabbing 6.7 rebounds (second behind Graham’s 6.8). He’s started 17 of 18 games, racked up 24 steals, 24 assists and 12 blocks. He turned in his first double-double this season and second of his career with 13 points and 12 boards in last week’s win at Elon. The Eagles (12-6, 5-3) hope for a similar performance in tonight’s 7:30 game home game against Wofford (9-8, 2-5).
    “I think he’s been our most consistent player this year up to this point (as far as) rebounding the ball and consistently scoring (and getting) assists and steals,” Price said. “He basically stuffs the stat sheet after the game and has a lot of different good things going on with his game. The energy he brings and the intangibles — basically Matt is doing exactly what we signed him to do, and that was to be a team guy. He’s a tremendous team person that doesn’t care a lot about his own stats.”
    Fields is also good for randomly inserting his opinion, and his teammates expressed their appreciation his impromptu halftime speech encouraging them to have more fun during an overtime win over the College of Charleston two weeks ago.
    “He just says spontaneous things that catch you off guard, and you kind of look and him and say ‘Yeah, you’re right,’” said Graham, who’s also Fields’ roommate. “You don’t know when he’s going to say something crazy, so just be ready for it. He’s usually right.
    “He was an essential part of the team last year, and he’s a very essential part to the team this year. He brings a lot of rebounds, blocking shots, scoring in the post, running the floor, dunking — he does pretty much everything you want a player to do, and he does it all in bunches.”
    Fields and the Eagles are glad to be back at Hanner Fieldhouse where they haven’t played since the Charleston win. Fields loves competing in the old gym mostly because of the rowdy Hanner Hooligans.
    “Our goal is not to loose any conference games at home, and the Hooligans bring so much energy to us,” he said. “We’ve got to get back on a roll. (Wofford and Saturday’s home game against Furman) are two big conference games, and we’ve just got to win them. We’ve got to get back flowing.”
    Fields, a finance major who recently picked up a political science minor, aspires to graduate in the next year, play overseas and eventually own a business.
    “Right now I just want to figure out how money works and get in a business mind frame,” he said.

Scouting Wofford
    Looking ahead to tonight’s game with the Terriers, Price sticks to an old adage — standings don’t mean jack when you get into conference play.
    Though the Terriers have won just two league games, the Eagles know danger lurks in Wofford, the SoCon’s top 3-point shooting team.
    “They had 17 3s against Chattanooga, and their guards are very good,” Price said. “They are very experienced and talented at guard. Overall I think they have probably the best guards in the league as a combination. We are certainly going to have our hands full.”

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