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Lady Eagles come out on top
GSU downs South Bama with clutch free throws
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Carolyn Whitney drives to the basket during Georgia Southern's 54-48 win over South Alabama Tuesday night at Hanner Fieldhouse. - photo by CHASE CHILDERS/staff
    She was searching for redemption.
    And after a shaky start, junior forward Christa Waterman got her opportunity — a pair of free throws when her team was clinging to a two-point lead and only 18 seconds remained in the game.
    She calmly sank both shots, effectively sealing the Lady Eagles’ third win of the season, a 54-48 victory over South Alabama Tuesday night at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    Waterman’s free throws came in the middle of a valiant GSU rally — an 8-0 run at the end of the game — that began when Ashley Melson grabbed an offensive rebound and nailed a jumper to knot the game at 48-48 with 2:55 remaining.
    The Lady Eagles took their first lead of the second half nearly two minutes later on Ashley Rivens’ driving layup. Waterman then hit her free throws, Shawnda Atwood sank a fast-break layup and the celebrating began.
    “At the beginning of the game, I didn’t feel like I was on, and a lot of our shots weren’t falling,” Waterman said. “I got subbed out early in the second half, and I just had to sit there and tell myself to just be poised and relaxed when I do get a chance to go in. That’s the only thing you can do in that high-pressure situation.”
    The Lady Eagles struggled from the field in the opening half when they hit just 26.5 percent of their shots (9 of 34). GSU coach Rusty Cram attributed the slow start to a letdown after two intense games in a Thanksgiving tournament in New Mexico.
    Georgia Southern (3-5) was down by six at the half, 27-21, and the Lady Eagles led only once in the first 20 minutes, a 14-12 edge after Chequilla Jessie hit back-to-back layups 11:58 before intermission. Those shots, Cram said, were crucial to the team’s momentum.
    “We weren’t hitting those shots, and then Chequilla came in,” Cram said. “She knows one game and that’s to be physical. She came in, she (played physical), it got our confidence up and everybody started believing first in her. Then it spread to the whole team, and they started getting their confidence back.”
    The Jaguars (3-3) quickly took an eight-point lead in the second half, but GSU maintained its poise and gradually climbed back in the game.
    “At halftime, we just felt like we were getting out-hustled,” Cram said. “They were the aggressors. They had the momentum going, and we were just backing down to them. We tried to wake them up a little bit and make some adjustments.
    “That last minute, we were in total control of ourselves. We knocked down free throws where we had to, played good defense and didn’t panic. We handled what they threw at us, and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
    Atwood finished with a game-high 11 points, while freshman point guard Carolyn Whitney added 10 points and hit all six of her free throw tries. She is a perfect 16 of 16 from the free-throw line in the last two games. The Lady Eagles named Jessie their player of the game (nine points), and Tiffany Brown added seven points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
    The Lady Eagles travel to Central Florida for a 7 p.m. game Friday and return to Hanner Dec. 13, to host Jacksonville at 7 p.m.

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