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Lady Eagles get first SoCon win, beat App State
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    Clinging to a one-point lead at the half, Georgia Southern coach Rusty Cram posed a crucial question to his team in the locker room.
    “He wanted to know if we were going to give in to the pressure and not step up as a team or come out more aggressive,” senior guard Shawnda Atwood said.
    The Lady Eagles answered his query in the first few minutes of the final period, which began with a Chequilla Jessie layup and an Atwood jumper off the glass. GSU made a concerted effort to increase its intensity, and the second-half boost paid off for the Eagles, who picked up their first Southern Conference win, a 72-58 victory over Appalachian State, Sunday afternoon at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    The Eagles are perfect at home this season (3-0) and improved to 4-6 overall and 1-1 in league play.
    The biggest discrepancy of the day came at the free-throw line where GSU made 28 more trips than the Mountaineers, who lost their sixth straight to fall to 1-7 on the year and 0-2 in the SoCon.
    “We worked hard all week on not fouling shooters,” Cram said. “In our motion offense we move so much it wears (defenders) out because they have to constantly move. When (they) start getting tired, (they) start making mistakes.”
    Atwood paced the Eagles with a team-high 16 points — three shy of a new career best — and eight rebounds while Ashley Melson added 14 points and nine boards. Melson set career highs in blocks (four) and free throws made (10) and attempted (12). Atwood and Melson have reached double figures seven times this season, which ties for the team lead.
    Tiffany Brown added 13 points for the Eagles, and Cram was pleased with his team’s depth as 10 different players scored. The bench chipped in 33 points.
    The Mountaineers took their largest lead of the game during an evenly matched first half after consecutive 3s by Sam Ramirez put the visitors on top 28-21 4:13 before the break. Cram called a timeout to halt the momentum, and Atwood then answered with a 3 to cut the ASU advantage to four.
    A jumper and a pair of free throws from Atwood followed by a Melson basket and two free throws from Jamie Navarro gave the Eagles a 36-35 edge at the half. Georgia Southern never trailed again.
    “In the first half I didn’t feel like we played very aggressive at all,” Cram said. “Hats off to App, they came out and played hard. They took the game to us, and we sat back and took it. We got ourselves readjusted at halftime, stepped up and played a little bit more aggressive in the second half and didn’t take what they were dishing. I thought we grew up some there.”
    A reverse layup by Melson with just under 10 minutes to play gave the Eagles their first double-digit lead of the night at 56-45, but the Mountaineers battled back, cutting the deficit to six after another Ramirez 3 with 6:30 remaining.
    Georgia Southern built its advantage back at nine after a pair of Melson free throws before GiGi Thomas sank a 3 from the top of the key to pull the Mountaineers within six with 1:39 to go. But the Eagles ended the game with an 8-0 run — all on free throws — to preserve the win.
    Sophomore forward Whitney Randolph led Appalachian with a career and game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, her first career double-double.
    The Eagles return to play Thursday, hosting Presbyterian in a 3 p.m. non-conference game.
    “Our first conference game (against Davidson), we unfortunately let that one slip away from us,” Atwood said. “We want to stay undefeated at home, work hard and try to run the conference.”
Notes: It was the second start of the year for Brown…Sophomore backup guard Elise Whitney missed her second straight game with an injury. She wore a protective boot on her right foot, and Cram is hoping to have her back for Thursday’s game…The Eagles held a 48-37 advantage on the boards.

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