Led by Indomitable Nsoseme, Panthers Outlast Pesky Mercer 88-81

Led by Indomitable Nsoseme, Panthers Outlast Pesky Mercer 88-81

To call Eliel Nsoseme’s performance against Mercer a career night would be an understatement – his 16 points and 20 rebounds combined for a dominating stat line. Photo: Jett Parker / Georgia State Sports Communications

Georgia State (4-1) led by as much as 20 in the second half and fought through a furious fightback from Mercer (6-1) to hand the Bears their first loss of 2020/21 and to avenge their only loss of the season so far, winning at the Sports Arena 88-81. Mercer had previously beaten Georgia State 86-69 on November 30, but the Panthers were able to get payback on their home court. Panthers forward Eliel Nsoseme was a force at both ends of the court, finishing with 16 points and 20 rebounds and a block. Those 20 rebounds for Nsoseme are the most in a single game by a Georgia State player since 1995 and the fifth-most in a single game in program history. Justin Roberts led the Panthers in scoring with 17 points, tied with Mercer’s Neftali Alvarez for the most among all scorers. Corey Allen added 16 points and Kane Williams handled his point guard duties with aplomb, scoring 15 points and dishing 9 assists while not committing a single turnover.

In the end, the Panthers pulled out what Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier called “a really good win for our team.” He continued, “It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t always pretty, but any time you beat a really good team like that is progress for your team.” He later added, “We had a lot of good contributions from a lot of guys, they did a great job of extending the game late and creeping back into it – and that’s just a credit to their coaching – and it’s a credit to our guys that they hung in and found a way to close out the game.”

Trailing 69-60 with just under 10 minutes left, off of a 11-0 run, the Bears made Georgia State play the game out to the bitter end. The Panthers were able to go on a mini run to restore a 14-point lead, 80-66, with 5:49 to go, but Mercer held them scoreless from the field over the next three minutes as they whittled away at the lead. A Ross Cummings three-pointer made a single-digit game again at 81-73 with 2:35 left and Georgia State would be forced to close the game out from the free throw line. Roberts made a pair of free throws to make it a 85-77 Panthers lead with 51 seconds, and while Mercer was able to draw some fouls of their own and make free throws to stay in the game, they missed their final five shots from the floor and couldn’t complete the late comeback.

The teams traded leads to start the rematch, but a Corey Allen three-pointer – the team’s first of the night – with 10:29 in the first half gave Georgia State a 21-17 lead. After a Leon Ayers III putback cut the Mercer deficit back to 2, the Panthers used a 8-0 run to grab a foothold in the game. Then, an Evan Johnson three and a thunderous JoJo Toppin dunk over Felipe Haase got the limited-attendance crowd rocking as Georgia State stayed in control. A pair of Greg Gary triples cut the lead back to 40-34 with 2:31 left in the half, but the Panthers scored the final seven points of the half to take their largest lead of the first 20 minutes, 47-34, into the break. Kane Williams, whose three-pointer on Georgia State’s final possession gave them that lead, led all scorers in the half with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and Eliel Nsoseme was in control inside the arc, coming a rebound shy of a first-half double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.

Nsoseme didn’t take long in the second half to get that 10th rebound, getting one of his seven offensive rebounds of the game and a putback to give Georgia State a 52-34 lead within a minute of the restart. The Panthers continued to keep control of the game through the early part of the second half, taking a 69-49 lead on an Evan Johnson three-pointer with 12:42 to go. But Mercer, fresh off a 16-point comeback win on the road against Georgia Southern last time out, wouldn’t go down easy and immediately fought their way back into the game. Georgia State’s shooting went cold and the Bears scored 11 unanswered in 2:53 to cut the deficit back to single digits with 9:49 left.

Coach Lanier had a lot of praise for Georgia State’s opponent tonight as well, mentioning that he told his staff that Mercer is a team the Panthers “should probably play every year,” saying that “they’re so well-coached, the stuff they run on offense is so good, that it really makes you better.” He thought the Panthers’ loss to the Bears earlier in the season helped the team grow to where they are now, saying, “I think if it’s not for [the November 30 loss to Mercer], we might not win the Charlotte game.” He went on, “Them humbling us the way they did the first time forced us to concentrate.”

The Panthers are back at it from the Sports Arena on Friday, when the Carver College Cougars come to visit. Tipoff is 2pm EST.

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