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Lady Eagles fight through Furman
GSU wins fourth straight
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    Sure, Furman came to town with losses in eight of its last 10 games and winless in Southern Conference play. But Georgia Southern women’s basketball coach Rusty Cram has been in this business way too long to let his team overlook its Monday night opponent.
    Cram and his staff posted signs throughout the locker room and spent the last few days hammering it his players’ heads — the Paladins will be gunning for you. He was right, and the Eagles spent the evening fending off a feisty Furman team, eventually hanging on to win 59-53 at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    “Coach Cram just tried to keep us focused — that Furman was definitely a hungry team,” said senior Shawnda Atwood, who was huge down the stretch while posting her fifth-career double-double and second this season. “They wanted to win, and why not come here and beat us on our floor? They kind of shook us up a little bit.”
    It was a season-high fourth-straight win for the Eagles, who improved to 9-8 overall and 5-1 in the league. Georgia Southern is in a two-way tie with the College of Charleston for second place in the conference standings behind Chattanooga (14-3, 6-0). The Cougars (9-7, 5-1) visit Hanner Saturday for a 3 p.m. game.
    After the Paladins knotted the game at 49 with 4:48 to go, GSU seniors Tiffany Brown and Atwood took over, outscoring Furman 10-4 the rest of the way. Brown — who scored her 1,000th-career point midway through the first half — ignited the late rally with a 3-pointer, and Atwood came through with the team’s final seven points.
    “We just had to play tight, pressure defense,” Atwood said. “I pretty much know that if the defense is working for me, shots are going to fall. We found a way those last couple minutes. I got a good look on those lucky shots I hit — I call them lucky because I wasn’t expecting them to go in.”
    Atwood finished with a game-high 17 points, 10 boards and four steals while Brown chipped in 14 points off the bench as the Eagles improved to 6-0 at home this year.
    “We are glad they are on our team, no question,” Cram said of Atwood and Brown. “We made one or two adjustments, and certainly you want to go to your people you know can get it done. That’s what seniors are supposed to do. They are supposed to be the ones to step up in crunch time like that, and they did.”
    The Eagles started strong, racing out to a 14-0 lead and holding the Paladins scoreless for the first 5:47. But Georgia Southern cooled off, weathering a span of more than nine minutes without a field goal.
    Despite the lull, the Eagles had a comfortable 13-point lead after a Carolyn Whitney 3 and an Ashley Melson layup when the Paladins began showing why they’re the best 3-point shooting team in the league. Furman (5-12, 0-6) hit three straight 3s to pull within four late in the opening half before Melissa Leibschwager sank another to tie the game at 26 at the half.
    “We kind of let down just thinking we were up and wouldn’t have to work as hard,” Atwood said. “But they came back and gave us a good run.”
    “We knew (Furman) would be ready to play,” Cram said. “When you are in second place like we are, everybody is going to shoot at you and bring your best game to you. We are not used to being (at the top) the last two years, so we’re having to learn to play at a whole other level now. They’ve just got to fight their way through these until we learn to do that consistently. Thank goodness we kept our focus down the stretch and were able to finish it.”
Notes: Georgia Southern’s 59 points were the fewest by the Eagles in a win this season…Ashley Rivens tied a career-high with five steals.

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