Panthers Beat Louisiana in Sun Belt Title Game, Punch Ticket to March Madness

Photo: Sun Belt Conference

Georgia State was 6-9 on January 22 and off to their worst conference start in over a decade at 0-4. But far from letting the adversity define their season, the Panthers clawed back and fought their way up the Sun Belt standings. The team won their final seven games in the regular season to earn the 3-seed in the conference tournament and then fought past Arkansas State and Appalachian State in their first two, hard-fought matchups in Pensacola. 

Their tenth straight win was the sweetest, as they outlasted Louisiana in the second half to win the Sun Belt championship game 80-71 and earn the Sun Belt’s autobid in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The Cajuns cut what had been a double-digit Panthers lead to a single possession, 55-52, on a pair of Jordan Brown free throws with 7:29 to go. Less than a minute later, Louisiana guard Matthew Thomas had a wide-open three-pointer that would have tied the game that rimmed out and Eliel Nsoseme completed a three-point play at the other end to push the lead back to 6. The Cajuns never got the deficit any closer than 5 at that point, as Georgia State kept matching punch for punch and sealed the tournament title at the free throw line.

For the second straight night, Sun Belt Tournament Most Outstanding Player Corey Allen led the way with 29 points. He continued his three-point barrage from Sunday’s win over App State with a 5-6 outing from beyond the arc and helped ice the game down the stretch by shooting a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe. Fellow super-senior Kane Williams also didn’t miss from the line, making all 6 of his free throw attempts. Double-double machine Eliel Nsoseme scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to get his fourth in five career Sun Belt tournament games. For his efforts, Nsoseme was named to the All-Tournament Team.

This will be the Panthers’ 4th NCAA Tournament appearance since rejoining the Sun Belt in 2013 and the 6th in school history. They will be the Sun Belt’s representative in the NCAAs for the third time in four tournaments. Georgia State holds an all-time record of 2-5 in the Big Dance as a program. Panthers head coach Rob Lanier’s first trip to the tournament with the program and his first as a head coach since leading Siena to an appearance in 2002. With this win, the team improves to 4-2 in Sun Belt championship appearances since reentering the league and 6-4 in conference championship games across all leagues in its history.

This tournament berth means Kane Williams will make program history by becoming the first Georgia State player to make three NCAA Tournament appearances in his career. It will be a first time in the Dance for every Panther except Williams, Nelson Phillips and Eliel Nsoseme, who appeared with the Cincinnati Bearcats in back-to-back tournaments in 2018 and 2019.

Feeling very reminiscent of the Panthers’ first half just one night ago against Appalachian State, the offensive firepower was on full display from the opening tip. They hit 9 of their first 13 shots from the floor and stormed out to a 24-14 lead when Jalen Thomas completed a three-point play with 10:36 to go in the half. Louisiana fought their way back into the game with 3-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 14 first-half points from Arizona transfer Jordan Brown down on the low block, but Georgia State had an answer for every run and took a 42-33 lead into the locker room after leading by as much as 11.

It’s been a season where Georgia State has seen more than their fair share of setbacks and tough nights, but after a remarkable turnaround down the stretch, it’s not over yet. The Panthers now await their placement in the field of 68 on Selection Sunday, March 13th. Their first-round game will take place on the following Thursday or Friday at a venue to be determined at the time of selection. Keep it locked to for the latest updates on GSU’s tournament happenings.

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