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Georgia Southern cruises to easy win, 70-41
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    This one was over almost as soon as it started.
    Georgia Southern steamrolled an overmatched and road-weary Winston-Salem State team, cruising to a 70-41 victory Saturday night in the Eagles’ home opener. GSU has won 26 consecutive home openers and 19 straight non-conference games at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    The Eagles used a stifling defensive effort to set the tone early, holding WSSU scoreless for a nine-minute span during the first half, a sloppy 20 minutes when the Rams hit just 20 percent of their shots (5 of 25).
    “(GSU) Coach (Jeff Price) made an emphasis that he wanted to get on them early and get them out of their offense by denying the wings, pressuring and rebounding,” said senior guard Donte Gennie, who finished with a game-high 13 points.
    The Eagles stuck to the plan, and WSSU didn’t reach double figures until 19 seconds before halftime when Jamal Durham hit a layup to make the score 31-11. The Rams, playing their seventh road game this season and fourth in eight days, trailed 34-13 at the break.
    The win was Georgia Southern’s first in three games dating back to the Eagles’ season-opening 116-73 victory over UC Davis on Nov. 12. Since then, Georgia Southern (2-2) dropped consecutive games at national powers Duke and Illinois.
    The loss was the fourth straight for the Rams (1-7).
    “Once we got up, we kept plugging away and kept defending – that’s the key thing about tonight, we just kept defending and everybody played as a team,” Gennie said.
    Eleven Eagles scored Saturday, including guard Jimmie Tobias (11 points), forward Matt Fields (eight points, four assists and two blocks) and guard Anthony Marshall (eight points, four rebounds). Georgia Southern out-rebounded the Rams 49-34 behind junior Louis Graham, who grabbed a game-high nine boards. Graham added six points and two blocks.
    Georgia Southern also dominated in the paint where the Eagles outscored the Rams, 38-14. The Eagles shot 48.1 percent from the field in the first half and 46.7 for the game but struggled initially when the Rams tried to trap GSU in the backcourt.
    “It made it hard to run our sets,” Price said. “We were determined to get the ball inside, but they were running off traps and we were kicking it over and getting wide-open shots. When they weren’t trapping, I thought we did a nice job of somewhat executing our stuff and getting the ball inside. We spent all week talking about getting more inside touches, and I thought we did that tonight.”
    Georgia Southern’s largest first-half lead was 23, an advantage that swelled to 31 late in the game when walk-on Blake Thompson sank a jumper with 1:24 remaining.
    The Eagles travel to Mercer Monday for a 7 p.m. game. Georgia Southern and the Rams meet again Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., at 2:30 p.m. GSU returns home Dec. 12 for a 7:30 p.m. game with Flagler.
    Notes: The teams exchanged words late in the opening half and again as they filed into the locker room at halftime, a scuffle that resulted in the ejection of Rams junior forward Greg Lewis….WSSU is currently in the second year of a five-year transition from Division II to D-I. The Rams are an independent team this season but will join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2007-08…Georgia Southern’s 70 points were the fewest in a home opener since the Eagles were held to 68 against Brewton-Parker in 1994.

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