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GSU host Thursday doubleheader for Toys for Tots
Bring a toy, get in free
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    They’ve had a few days to recover, but the Georgia Southern men don’t feel any better about last Saturday’s closely contested loss to two-time defending national champion Florida. The Eagles turned in a stellar defensive performance and led the vast majority of the game before the Gators sunk four late free throws to squeeze out a 52-49 win.
    “After watching the game on tape (my feelings weren’t) any different,” Eagle coach Jeff Price said Wednesday. “It was an opportunity we should have taken. I thought we were the better team on that day.”
    Georgia Southern’s statistics were superior to Florida’s, but the Eagles were plagued by a bad day at the free-throw line where they were a disappointing 5-for-13. The Gators made 17 more trips to the charity stripe than GSU and finished with a 24-of-30 clip.
    “It’s unfortunate we lost the game because of free-throw shots,” Price said. “We defended well, rebounded well and did a lot of good things. But every time we had to make our free throws we didn’t, and when they had to make theirs they did.”
    With the Florida loss behind them, the 7-2 Eagles now turn their focus to Asbury College, a NAIA school located 20 minutes southwest of Lexington, Ky., which travels to Statesboro for a 7:30 p.m. game tonight. Price and his staff are toiling to keep his group focused on its final game before the Christmas break.
    “Anytime your guys know they are off right after the game for a few days, they tend to want to get home for Christmas, which is understandable,” Price said. “But we’ve just got to overcome that for one more game. This game’s too crazy to take anybody for granted. We just have to use this game as another instrument to get better because pretty soon we are stepping into league play full-time.”
    Georgia Southern has won seven of its last eight thanks in part to its solid defense, which leads the Southern Conference in field-goal percentage defense (39 percent), 3-point defense (26.9 percent), blocks (6.6 per game) and steals (8.6 per game).
    Asbury (9-3), also nicknamed the Eagles, has won eight of its last nine and is led by senior Brett Johnson, who averages 19.9 points and 8.9 rebounds a contest.
    “They are scrappy, they shoot the ball well and they are a very efficient team,” Price said. “They are very experienced with a lot of juniors and seniors. Anytime you play a team like that, regardless of what level they are, they are going to be fairly organized.”

Women set for Presbyterian
    Like the men, focus will be a major key for the Georgia Southern women this afternoon when they host Presbyterian in a non-conference 5 p.m. matchup — their final game before the holiday.
    “We’ve been on campus by ourselves now for almost two weeks,” Eagle coach Rusty Cram said. “They know it’s the holidays, and it’s certainly tough to keep them focused. We’ve worked hard on it, and they know they’ve got one more to play.”
    The Eagles (4-6) are looking to stay undefeated at Hanner Fieldhouse where they’re 3-0 this year. GSU is led by three guards averaging in double figures — seniors Tiffany Brown (12.5 points per game) and Shawnda Atwood (12.0) and junior Ashley Melson (11.1).
    Playing its first season as a Division I member, Presbyterian — located in the upstate of South Carolina - has lost three straight since its only win this season, a 63-62 victory at South Carolina State earlier this month. The Blue Hose (1-10) and the Eagles have never met before.
    “We know they are going to play some zone against us, and we are going to have to shoot the ball well,” Cram said. “They seem to force a lot of turnovers. It’s pretty much the same game plan we’ve had the last several ballgames – rebound, take care of the basketball and get good high-percentage shots at the basket.”
    The Eagles coming off their first Southern Conference win, a 72-58 defeat of Appalachian State at home Sunday. GSU wants to keep that momentum going for today’s game as the team looks for its first back-to-back wins this season.
“As a coaching staff we know what’s at stake, we just have to keep them there for one more game and try to get another win under our belt before the holidays,” Cram said.
Notes: Some tickets for the women’s contest have been printed with a game time of 3 p.m., but tip-off has been changed to 5 p.m…Fans can receive free admission to the games by donating an unwrapped non-perishable item for the Toys 4 Tots charity.

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