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Lady Eagles beat USC Upstate
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   Tiffany Brown’s campaign to return to the starting lineup began in earnest Saturday afternoon.
    The senior all-conference guard gave the Eagles a much-needed boost off the bench, pouring out a game-high 25 points to motor Georgia Southern to an 81-66 non-conference win over USC Upstate at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    It was the second outing this year for Brown, last season’s leading scorer, who was suspended the first six games for violating team rules. She finished two points shy of tying her career high and also added six rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal.
    “She’s close to (being back in) good graces,” GSU coach Rusty Cram said. “I’m sleeping a little bit better now that she’s back. She just brings a whole new element to the ballgame. I know it relaxes our team now that she’s back because they know what she brings to the table. We all feel pretty good about it.”    
    With the Eagles in an early 11-9 hole, Brown exploded for 12 straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Eagles up by six 8:55 before the half. The Spartans roared back, taking a 27-25 lead on a Kelly Westfield jumper before junior guard Ashley Melson poured in seven straight points. GSU closed the half with a late 9-0 run capped by an Elise Whitney 3 and was up 41-32 at the break.
    Brown was the centerpiece of a GSU bench that amassed 48 points and proved vital to the team’s late first-half surge.
    “They turned the whole game around because I thought we were flat through some of our starters, but they came in and did they had to do to close that first half,” Cram said of his bench players. “The first few minutes of the second half we also came out lethargic, so we just benched a few of them and put in some younger kids. They came out and determined the ballgame.”
    With the win, the Eagles halted a three-game losing skid and improved to 3-5 on the year. The Spartans, playing their first season in Division I, fell to 2-5.
    The Eagles benefited from another quality outing by Melson, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds two days after scoring a career-high 24 points at Davidson Thursday. Melson was solid despite being under the weather.
    “The last four games Ashley’s just been getting better and better,” Cram said. “I love the way she playing right now. She’s fighting through (being sick) and giving us big production minutes, so we were able to rest her a little bit more tonight. I’m proud as I can be of her. She’s just really turning a big corner for us.”
    GSU kept rolling in the second half, and the Eagles enjoyed a double-digit lead most of the final 20 minutes. Their biggest advantage was a 16-point margin at 11:22 mark when Shawnda Atwood’s 3 put the home team on top 59-43.
    The Spartans cut the deficit to eight with less than six minutes to play, but the Eagles answered with consecutive 3s from Brown and Whitney to push their lead to 71-57.
USC Upstate forward Shanea Wyant burned the Eagles for 13 points in the opening period, but Georgia Southern successfully shut her down after the break, holding her to five points over the final 20 minutes. Forward Oceana Jackson led the Spartans with 22 points and nine rebounds.
    Cram continues to be encouraged by his team’s depth — nine players scored and 12 saw time — and he stresses the Eagles’ need to hit shots and take control of games early. GSU outrebounded USC Upstate 50-39 but had 22 turnovers to the visitors’ 18.
    Georgia Southern will take next week off for final exams and travel to Georgia Tech Sunday, Dec. 9 for a 1 p.m. game. The Eagles return home Sunday, Dec. 16 for a 3 p.m. game against Appalachian State.