Georgia State saved their best performance of the season for their bitter rivals Georgia Southern, burying them in the second half and running away with a 79-63 win. It’s the Panthers’ fourth straight victory and their sixth in seven games, as they improve to 12-10 on the year and get back above .500 in Sun Belt play with a 6-5 record. This is also two straight wins in the rivalry series for State and six victories in the teams’ last eight matchups. Overall, the Panthers hold a 12-6 edge in head-to-head matchups since Southern joined the Sun Belt in 2014.
It was just a narrow three-point lead at the break for State, but the offensive explosion the Panthers have been looking for finally came in this one, as they made 11 of their first 16 attempts in the second half to take a commanding lead. A 10-0 run early in the second half – with 7 of the points coming from senior guard Kane Williams – stretched the lead to double digits for the first time all evening. Southern couldn’t match the offensive output and the game soon got out of control. The Panthers took their first 20-point lead with 12:07 remaining and a Williams lay-up with 3:11 gave them their largest lead of the night, 75-53, and brought the reserves off the bench to close out the rivalry win.
Kane Williams was the star for Georgia State, leading with a game-high 21 points on 6-9 shooting and a 9-10 performance at the free throw line. His fellow senior guards Corey Allen and Justin Roberts joined him in double figures with 18 and 13 respectively, with Allen having his best shooting performance (7-13, 3-6 from 3) since the ULM win on January 29. But the win came in large part because of the Panthers’ work on the glass, out-rebounding Southern 41-23 and holding the Eagles to just 3 offensive boards. This work was led from the top by Eliel Nsoseme, who got his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier called the rebounding effort by his team “a key to the game,” noting that it netted them 13 more shot attempts than Georgia Southern over the course of the night. Coach Lanier didn’t let the narrow halftime lead fool him, saying that he “wasn’t pleased with [the team’s] effort and intensity defensively.” But, he said, “The effort level was better in the second half…and then we finally made some shots.”
In characterizing the offensive performance in the second half, Coach Lanier said, “We didn’t catch fire, but we looked a little bit more like what we’ve played in the past offensively,” calling it “encouraging.” He noted that the sequencing really made a difference, coming back to the strong rebounding performance and stating, “We were limiting to them to one shot and then we had a stretch where we made some shots.”
And Coach Lanier had a lot of praise for the job his senior leader Kane Williams has been doing in the team’s recent good run of form. He said, “We’ve needed some leadership from inside and Kane is coming into his own as a leader right now.” He talked about Kane carrying himself with “the appropriate level of urgency right now” and said, “Not only is he communicating that, he’s walking that walk.”
The Panthers were the hotter team out of the gates, scoring seven of the first nine points and maintaining the lead for much of the first half. A Kane Williams layup under the basket with 8:07 to go in the half gave them their largest lead of the half, 22-15. It soon became the Kamari Brown Show, though, as he scored the next seven points himself to tie things up for Georgia Southern. The Eagles soon took the lead for the first time all night on a Tre Cobbs layup with 4:40 to go in the half. But that shot which gave Southern a 27-26 lead was their last made basket of the first half and State scored the next six to restore their advantage. A pair of Cobbs free throws with 1:18 on the clock made it a 32-29 Georgia State lead at the halftime break. The Panthers took a lead into the locker room despite shooting 39% from the floor, thanks in large part to amassing a 22-11 rebounding advantage and committing just 2 turnovers.
State will have to hit the reset button and do this all over again when they head down to Statesboro Saturday afternoon for an instant rematch with Georgia Southern. Coach Lanier wanted to make it clear to his team that the score of tonight’s win had no bearing on the rematch and that it was going to be a whole new game. He also mentioned that this stretch of wins provided the team with a new challenge – how to handle success. He said, “If we’re going to be tough, then we’re going to come out on Saturday and play even harder than we did tonight.”
Time will tell if the Panthers can do just that. The action gets underway at Hanner Fieldhouse at 3pm Eastern and the game is being broadcast on ESPN+.
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