After falling short in two close games at home last week, Georgia State rebounded and exorcized their recent late-game demons with a 68-64 win at Louisiana on Thursday night. The win breaks a five-game losing streak for the Panthers and gives them their first win in Sun Belt play. It was also the team’s first against a Division I opponent since High Point on November 21 and the 100th win of Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier’s head coaching career.
After a Jordan Brown jumper capped off a 10-0 run for the Cajuns and gave them their largest lead of the second half, 62-57, with 6:23 remaining, Georgia State did not allow another made field goal. They scored 7 of the next 8 points to take a 64-63 lead heading into the final minute, and that was when senior guard Justin Roberts took the game over.
Roberts caught a deflection of his own pass on the run and drained a falling away jumper to extend the Panthers’ lead to three. Then in the final ten seconds, after Theo Akwuba had split a pair of free throws to reduce the lead to 66-64 and the Cajuns got a stop on defense, he intercepted a cross-court outlet pass intended for Kobe Julien and drew a foul. And when Roberts hit both free throws with 6 seconds on the clock, Georgia State clinched their first win in over a month.
Jalen Thomas came off the bench for the first time all season and responded with a joint-team-high 14 points, alongside senior guard Kane Williams, on 7-10 shooting. Williams, for his part, was a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe and 2-3 on his three-pointers, after coming into the game 9-42 from beyond the arc on the season. The late-game hero Roberts had 12 points and led the team with 6 assists, while all three of Thomas, Williams and Roberts led the way with 3 steals apiece. That was part of a defensive effort that forced 20 Cajun turnovers.
Coach Lanier credited the team’s response through the adversity they’ve faced as a team, saying, “I think the group right now is locked in on the team and I think everything we’ve experienced is making us closer.” He heralded the steady progression the team has shown at the defensive end, noting how the team for much of the year has been the worst defense since he’s been in charge and saying, “The last couple of weeks, our defense has improved and continues to improve.”
On the close nature of the win and how the team had to fight for the win, Coach Lanier said, “I don’t think you could script this any better” – referring to how each of the team’s last three losses came in similar games that went down to the final seconds. He said the message in that moment was for the team to “not act like something’s happening to [them]” and ‘to go take one.” He finished, “We did that night, so I’m proud of these guys.”
And Coach Lanier was effusive in praise for not only how Jalen Thomas performed off the bench in the win but also for how he reacted to losing his starting spot. Lanier said, “His response even to the news that he was going to be coming out of the starting lineup was a real sign of maturity and unselfishness,” before adding, “It’s not a surprise he played well in the game because he really was more concerned about what was best for the team.”
After a 10-2 GSU run to start the game was erased by an 8-0 response by the Cajuns, it was a back-and-forth affair the rest of the half. Georgia State collectively found their shooting groove early on, hitting 4 of their first 5 threes as a team. But Louisiana was able to ride hot shooting from the perimeter during the first half as well, making 7 of 13 attempts from 3. Trailing by four in the final two minutes, the Panthers embarked on a late run. They scored the final five points of the half, with a Corey Allen mid-range jumper with 9 seconds left on the clock giving them a 35-34 halftime advantage.
The Panthers can’t savor this win for as long as they might wish to because they’re back in action in two days, when they head over to Monroe to face ULM on Saturday afternoon. Tipoff at Fant-Ewing Coliseum is at 3pm Eastern. The game is being broadcast on ESPN+.