Georgia State has been making stingy defense a calling card of theirs as they’ve battled back from an 0-4 start to Sun Belt play, and that trend continued in tonight’s smothering 61-50 victory over Coastal Carolina on the road. This was the Panthers’ fourth win in five games and third straight road victory, as they got back to the .500 mark for the first time since early January. State held Coastal over 24 points below their conference-leading scoring average this season thanks to a degree of high intensity and effort at the defensive end of the court that’s coming to define this team, as the Chants shot 27.1% (16-59) from the floor and made just 7 of 26 attempted three-pointers.
The Panthers led by 13 at the break, but their own 34% shooting percentage as a team on the evening allowed Coastal to hang around in the second half. A mini 5-0 run for the Chanticleers cut the deficit to 42-35 with 12:56 remaining, but that was to be as close as it got. The Panthers responded by pitching a shutout on defense for the next 5 minutes and scoring 7 unanswered to restore their double-digit advantage. A Nelson Phillips mid-range jumper with 5:39 to go gave them their largest lead of the night, 56-39, and though that was the last made field goal by any player wearing black, they sunk enough free throws and made enough plays at the defensive end to see out the victory. A pair of Kane Williams free throws in the final minute made it two straight games on the road ending with an 11-point margin of victory for Georgia State.
Williams was the standout offensive performer for Georgia State courtesy of an 11-15 night at the free throw line. He led the team with 18 points, with Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier praising his senior guard, saying he “stepped up” in the win tonight. The team’s experience
Jalen Thomas joined Williams in double digits with 11 points and also secured his third career double-double and second this season with a team-high 13 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. And that 13 is a new career high in boards for the junior from Detroit, MI. The Panthers just narrowly won the rebounding battle thanks to Thomas’s work, 44-42. It was a poor shooting night overall for Coastal Carolina, but their leading scorer Vince Cole still paced all players with his 20 points.
Overall, Coach Lanier was happy at the effort on defense and thought the team did enough with the ball in their hands to win the game, saying, “We still haven’t caught fire, but we made some shots, made some plays.” He went on, “We’ve got some areas we need to improve on, significantly, but all in all, it was a good effort and I’m proud, especially from a defensive standpoint.”
Ever willing to expect more from the team, Coach Lanier highlighted the 17 offensive rebounds Coastal Carolina pulled down as a place to improve on at the defensive end, saying, “I think it would have been a dominant defensive performance had we done a better job in that particular area.”
Still, the work Georgia State put in on defense paid massive dividends – and it started early. After Coastal made 5 of their first 7 shots from the floor, they had just 3 made field goals over the final 16:24 of the half, at one point missing 13 straight attempts. A Jalen Thomas layup with 14:27 left gave the Panthers a lead they would only add to for the remainder of the half. They took a quantity-over-quality approach to three-point shooting in the first half – with just 6 makes out of 19 attempts from downtown – but the final two from Justin Roberts in the course of a minute gave Georgia State a 30-15 lead, their largest of the half, with 3:49 to go. The Panthers missed their first seven shot attempts, but Coastal only managed to cut the deficit to 32-19 by the time the halftime buzzer sounded.
The Panthers will look to make it a perfect road trip and a third straight win as they make the trek up to Boone, NC, to face the Sun Belt-leading Appalachian State Mountaineers. Tipoff at the Holmes Center is at 4pm Eastern on Saturday and the action is being telecast on ESPN+.