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GSUs Lou looks ahead
Eagle senior ready for last shot at SoCon title
112607 GSU HOOPS 2
Georgia Southern forward Louis Graham, left, fends off Mercer's Sam Dolan for a second half rebound in this 2007 file photo. Graham and the other Eagle seniors are ready for their last shot at a title in the Southern Conference Tournament, where they will take on the winner of the Citadel/Charleston game on Saturday. - photo by Associated Press
    What if?
    That query has crossed through Louis Graham’s head ad nauseam recently after a frustrating Saturday night for Georgia Southern’s star senior forward.
    The Eagles went into last weekend full of optimism and hoping to halt Davidson’s bid for a perfect Southern Conference season, a feat that was impossible with Graham, their go-to guy, on the bench with foul trouble. GSU fans cried foul over the officiating, which hit Graham with his third foul 5:20 before the half and his fourth with 17:25 remaining. By the 12:21 mark, Graham had his fifth, exiling him from his final game at Hanner Fieldhouse without a point in just 11 minutes of action.
    Without Graham, the Eagle ship gradually sank, and the Wildcats cruised out of Statesboro with a 20-point win. It was the first time since February of his freshman year Graham, a first-team All-SoCon selection this season, was held scoreless.
    Now Graham and the Eagles (20-11, 13-7) have no choice but to move forward as their only shot at extending their season beyond this weekend is to win the SoCon tournament. The third-seeded Eagles have a first-round bye and play the Charleston/Citadel winner in Saturday night’s late game in Charleston, S.C.
    “It’s been a long time since I had one of those games,” Graham said. “It’s a shoulda, coulda, woulda type of situation, but you can’t worry about that. You’ve just got to let it go, put it behind you and get ready for the tournament. I’ve just got to make some adjustments. Once I make adjustments I’ll be okay. It’s a part of the game.”
    Graham’s value to the Eagles is tremendous — his 16.8 points per game leads the team, is a career-best and ranks third in the league. He averages 6.6 rebounds a night (second on the team behind Matthew Fields) and has recorded 30 career double-doubles. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native is also GSU’s all-time leading shot blocker (207), ranks fourth in rebounds (898), seventh in scoring (1,565) and fifth in field goals.
    “That’s the big ticket on our team,” senior point guard Dwayne Foreman said. “He’s a great teammate, a great person to hang around, all of the above. He knows when he needs to bring it and whatever he needs to do to lead us to victory.”
    Graham’s hottest run this season came during a post-Christmas tear when he averaged 20.6 points an outing over a 17-game stretch. He put up 20 or more points in 10 of those games, including a career-best 29 points and four 3-pointers at Wofford in mid-February. Foreman wasn’t at all surprised by Graham’s late-season surge.
    “I see it on a daily basis — from open gyms to practice — and I’ve been waiting for it to happen on the court,” Foreman said. “Coach Price pretty much let him loose to do his thing. The ball’s in his court.”
    Away from the hardwood, Graham has a unique, friendly and off-the-wall personality that leaves his friends and teammates guessing.
    “He keeps us entertained,” said Fields, Graham’s roommate. “He’s his own person. He likes to listen to music, and he’s an older type of guy, so he’ll go in there and play some Michael Jackson and just goob around the house or come and talk to you. He’s real chill at the house.”
    With his 6-foot-8 frame and a reputation as on of the best players in the league, Graham also has a distinct swagger, sometimes mistaken as overconfidence.
    “Everybody thinks he’s so cocky, arrogant — but that man ain’t all that,” Foreman said. “He’s low just like everybody else. He’s just a cool person to be around all the time.”
    Said freshman Willie Powers: “He always keeps you laughing, always keeps you wondering what he’s going to say next. You never know what he’s going to do next. He’s just a funny dude.”
    Fields jokingly tabbed Graham “The Black Mamba” in reference to the nickname NBA star Kobe Bryant gave himself.  The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa.
    “That’s my new thing for Lou,” Fields said laughing. “He’s our go-to man. Whenever we need something, we go to Lou to look for it. Coach and all the players know that.”
    As Graham prepares for this weekend, he’s trying not to focus on the fact it’s his last SoCon tournament and his final shot at helping the Eagles make the Big Dance. Instead, he’s working to make sure a night like last Saturday never happens again.
    “We are going to try to run some stuff that’s not always going to me,” he said. “We’re just going to have to mix it up a little bit — dig in the bag and figure out what we’ve got. We’ve got some stuff down there.”
Note: Redshirt freshman Jared Collins, a reserve forward from Toombs County, is no longer with the team, a decision that was mutual said school spokesman Matt Horne. Collins averaged 1.7 points and 1.1 rebounds in 11 games this season.

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