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Jessie, Ladies battle for win
Victory gives Cram milestone
Georgia Southern's Chequilla Jessie splits two Elon defenders for two of her 13 points in the Lady Eagles' 46-37 win Saturday at Hanner Fieldhouse. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Following Monday’s win at Wofford, their first in eight games, the Lady Eagles wanted to make a fresh start. So after 20 minutes of sub-par basketball against Elon Saturday, Georgia Southern knew it needed to make a change.
     “Coach (Rusty) Cram told us at halftime we’d been playing lackadaisical and gave up,” junior Shawnda Atwood said. “We knew that wasn’t us. We wanted to have a new season starting over, and we knew we had to come out and fight in the second half.”
    The Eagles did just that, putting up 13 unanswered points early in the final period en route to a 46-37 Southern Conference victory, their second straight. The win was the 163rd career victory for Cram, making him the winningest coach in GSU women’s basketball history. He was honored at mid-court following the game, while the Hanner Hooligans shouted “Rusty! Rusty!”
    “It’s wonderful,” the 11th-year coach said of the milestone. “It’s for all the girls who have played here and all the people involved over the years. The big thing is it’s behind us now, and the girls can go on and focus. This is about them, their year and trying to make something work here. I’m happy to get it, but at the same time I’m ready for this team to move on.”
    Atwood added:
    “Coach Cram wasn’t too worried about the stats, but that’s something we wanted to do as a team — and me especially as junior — for him.”
    Georgia Southern (9-14, 4-8) outscored the Phoenix (9-14, 3-9) 29-15 after halftime and improved its field-goal shooting from 22.2 percent in the first half to 52.4 percent in the second period.
    “We always try to key the first five minutes in the second half when you’ve lost your poise in the first half,” Cram said.
    Georgia Southern played well early in the game, pounding the ball inside and opening with a 14-4 run. Atwood’s layup at the 14:17 mark put the home team up by 10, but the Eagles didn’t score a field goal for the next 11:26 while Elon jumped back in the game with 15 unanswered points. Despite going 6-for-27 from the field in the first 20 minutes, Georgia Southern only trailed by five, 22-17, at the half.
    Chequilla Jessie was crucial to the quick start, scoring eight of GSU’s first 12 points. She finished with a game-high 13 points and nine rebounds.
    “We wanted to come out strong,” Jessie said. “We knew we had to get the win at home tonight for Coach Cram so he could get the standing ovation.”
    Atwood added 11 points and eight boards, while Ashley Melson chipped in nine points and grabbed seven rebounds. No one scored in double figures for Elon, which shot 25 percent from the field for the game.
    Cram said maintaining poise and control down the stretch helped the Eagles avenge a 55-50 loss to the Phoenix earlier this year.
    “We weren’t rushing our shots,” he said. “We were taking our time and taking what they were giving us. We weren’t trying to force and create things that weren’t there. I thought we did a much better job taking care of the basketball in the second half and keeping our composure.”
    The Eagles host UNC Greensboro Monday at 5 p.m.

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