First-half lethargy made way for an offensive explosion in the second half for Georgia State, where they scored 46 points and turned a one-point halftime lead into a convincing 82-70 win over ULM. With this win and other results in the conference tonight, the team clinched a first-round bye in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament next week in Pensacola. The Panthers shot 47% from the floor as a team and assisted on 21 of their 31 made baskets, a season-high in Division I games. They also hit 12 three-pointers, the most they’ve made in a Sun Belt conference game this season. The three-point shooting really shined in the second half, when the team made 7 of 14 attempts from beyond the arc.
The team’s red-hot shooting in this win mirrored the run this team’s been on in the last month, as they’ve now won six straight games and eight in nine games to turn their season around and earn a first-round bye in the Sun Belt tournament. With a win tonight and Arkansas State and South Alabama’s losses, the Panthers are guaranteed a top 4 seed and will enter the Sun Belt tourney next Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Leading just 50-47 with 14:38 to go, after Andre Jones split a pair of free throws for the Warhawks, Georgia State went on a 7-0 run to take their first double-digit lead of the night. After a Koreem Ozier three-pointer momentarily stopped the bleeding, the Panthers responded and scored the next eight points to take a new largest lead of 15, 65-50 with 9:21 left. ULM never got the deficit back to single digits and a Collin Moore putback dunk with 1:23 remaining got the Panthers over that 80-point plateau and put a nice capper on the team’s sixth straight win.
Senior guards Justin Roberts and Corey Allen co-led Georgia State with 15 points each. Forward Eliel Nsoseme came on late in the game, scoring 8 of his 14 points in the final 11 minutes of play. Nelson Phillips did not play in the win, in what Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier characterized as a “coach’s decision”. Moore, a sophomore from North Little Rock, AR who was averaging 2.0 ppg in 14 games played, played the majority of Phillips’ usual minutes and made them count, scoring a season-high 11 points on 4-7 shooting – including a 3-5 night from beyond the arc. Coach Lanier said of the reserve guard’s great performance, “I gave him an opportunity and he made the most of it.”
Lanier called the team’s performance in the first half “lackluster”, going on to say, “I didn’t think we played hard enough, with enough energy, and we were sloppy with the ball.” He was encouraged with the type of shooting performance his team had tonight, but he said the next step for them would be connecting that with the solid defense the team has exhibited for much of this winning streak, saying, “I think for us to reach the level we want to reach, we have to put the two together.”
Guard Elijah Gonzales did not play for ULM when Georgia State beat the Warhawks 73-62 on January 29 and his presence in the rotation in this game loomed large. He finished with a game-high 4 steals and proved to be a pesk in ULM’s man-to-man defense all night. Coach Lanier credited him with “steadying” the Warhawks at the offensive end and said of the defensive work he exhibited tonight against the Panthers, “He plays really aggressive and gets deflections and gets steals.”
Georgia State wasn’t at its crispest to start the game and ULM took advantage in a back-and-forth first half. The Panthers came into the game averaging just 12.1 turnovers per game – they committed 10 in the first half alone, most of the live-ball variety. The Warhawks got 11 points off those takeaways as they played passing lanes and looked to beat Georgia State’s defense down the court in transition. After an early 6-2 GSU lead, ULM scored the next 5 points to set off an extended sequence where the lead pinged back and forth between the two teams.
Things momentarily got testy between the teams after Andre Jones made a layup through contact by Corey Allen with 9:42 remaining in the half. Jones picked up a technical foul for taunting and offsetting technicals were called on Georgia State’s Eliel Nsoseme and ULM’s Koreem Ozier in the fracas that ensued post-play. When the dust settled, Kane Williams hit a pair of technical free throws to tie the game at 23. The Panthers scored 11 of the next 16 points to take either team’s largest lead of the half – at 6 – but ULM fought back and made it just a 36-35 lead at the break.
The 82 points scored marks only the second time the team has scored 80 in a game against DI competition. It last happened in the team’s 83-64 win over Northeastern on November 12. The regular season finale against Louisiana will serve as the final game ever played in the GSU Sports Arena, with the team due to move to the brand-new Convocation Center next season. Tip-off in what is your last chance to see a game on the Third Floor is on Friday at 7pm Eastern. If you can’t make it, you can watch live on ESPN+.