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No mercy: Eagles butcher Bulldogs
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Georgia Southern's Johntavious Rucker goes up for a shot during Wednesday's blowout win against The Citadel. The Eagles won 98-68. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    This one was over before it ever really started.
    The Citadel — the Southern Conference’s youngest team — was simply no match for a hot Georgia Southern squad, which used a first-half offensive explosion to bury the Bulldogs long before they could find their bearings at Hanner Fieldhouse Wednesday night.
    When the free-for-all finally came to an end, the Eagles were on top 98-68, improving their home record to 11-1. It was the sixth-straight win for Georgia Southern (20-8, 13-5), which has won eight of its last nine. The Eagles also locked up their third 20-win season in five years.
    “Our focus was really good at the start,” Eagle coach Jeff Price said. “We talked so much about it — that all league games count, anybody is dangerous and we need to take the game really seriously.”
    Georgia Southern’s 98 points were a season high, and the Eagles were on the verge of hanging 100 points on a league opponent for the first time since scoring 115 against the Bulldogs in February 2005.
    Louis Graham’s torrid run continued as the senior put up a game-high 23 points for his eighth 20-point performance in 11 outings. Matthew Fields turned in his second-straight double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Julian Allen added 10 points for the Eagles.
    All five Bulldog starters were freshmen along with seven of the eight players who saw time Wednesday. The only non-freshman was walk-on junior Jonathan Brick, who logged just four minutes.
    The Eagles opened the game with 10 unanswered points, scored on 17 of their first 20 possessions and hit 19 of their first 26 tries (73.1 percent). Birthday boy Willie Powers sank a 3 to put the Eagles up by 19 11:32 before the half, and less than a minute later GSU took its first 20-point lead on a Fields layup.
    “The way they came at us — we didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Citadel coach Ed Conroy said.
    By the time the Bulldogs (6-20, 1-16) reached double figures, the Eagles were already on top 30-10. The Eagles posted season highs in both points (55) and shooting percentage in the first half (67.7), taking a 27-point advantage into the locker room after a late Johntavious Rucker 3.
    “Coach told us not to worry about offense,” Graham said. “When you play defense the way we are right now, the offense just clicks and comes to you. The defense flustered them a little bit.”
    The entire Eagle bench got in the game, and reserves ignited the home crowd as Jared Collins and Ryan Hynes threw down slam dunks and Blake Thompson nailed a 3.
    “It’s good to play some guys that don’t get to play a lot,” Price said. “It can be beneficial for us going down the stretch here to play some guys going into the tournament. In tournament situations, we are going to need that depth.”
    The Eagles step out of league play for an ESPN Bracketbusters game Saturday at Austin Peay. They have just one home game remaining, a March 1 matchup with league heavyweight Davidson.
Notes: GSU sophomore guard A.J. Johnson (knee injury) was held out of the game for precautionary reasons…The Eagles hit 14 of 15 free throws…Three Bulldogs reached double figures —Cameron Wells (20), Zach Urbanus (15) and Austin Dahn (13)...Powers turned 19 Wednesday.

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