363 days ago, Georgia State came up short in the Sun Belt title game against Appalachian State, losing 80-73 and missing out on the league’s autobid to the NCAA Tournament. As fate would have it, the teams met again in the conference tournament semifinals and the Panthers avenged last year’s loss with a 71-66 win to punch their ticket for the Sun Belt championship Monday night against Louisiana. Led by a 29-point outburst by senior guard Corey Allen, the Panthers rebounded from a poor shooting performance in Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Arkansas State and lit it up offensively. After shooting 19% as a team from beyond the arc in their last game, Georgia State was an efficient 8-15 from downtown. Allen had 6 of those three-pointers himself on 9 attempts.
State needed every point they scored, as they had to survive a three-point onslaught from App State. They led the entire second half, but the Mountaineers matched their whole-game output in three-pointers in the second half alone (8-15) and made 13 of 26 threes on the night. The Panthers’ lead stretched to as much as 13, but App State – who have the most second-half comebacks in Division I basketball since head coach Dustin Kerns arrived in Boone in 2019 – would not go quietly.
A 9-0 Mountaineers run, all on made threes, cut the double-digit advantage all the way to 2, 57-55 with 6:03 remaining. But mirroring their late-game poise from one night ago, GSU made the plays they needed to and it was the turn of Allen to play hero. The senior went on a personal 7-0 run to stretch the lead out to 66-57 with 35 seconds remaining, finishing the sequence with a fall-away jumper from the free throw line that virtually iced the game. App State still had two three-pointers in their bag to stretch the game out, but the Panthers made their foul shots and saw out the victory.
This will be the Panthers’ sixth appearance in the Sun Belt title game since reentering the league in 2013. They have a 3-2 record in their previous five appearances, last winning in the 2019 tournament – the last to be held at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. As an additional note, the 2021/22 Georgia State team is now 12-2 in games where they score 70 points or more.
Georgia State and App State entered this game as two of the top three defenses in conference play, but the first half was all about the offense. After assisting on just 8 made shots and making 4 of 21 attempted three-pointers in their win Saturday over Arkansas State, the Panthers had 14 assists and shot 7-12 from beyond the arc in the first half of the semifinal. This effort was led by senior Corey Allen, who finished with a game-high 17 points in the half. Allen also did his part in sharing the basketball, compiling a joint-best 5 assists along with his backcourt mate Kane Williams. And he put the exclamation mark on his sizzling showing with a long three-pointer, his fifth of the half, as time expired. That buzzer-beater capped off an 11-0 run by Georgia State which turned a two-point deficit into a 38-29 halftime lead.
A lot has changed since the beginning of the season, but after all the ups and downs, the preseason #1 and #2 picks in the Sun Belt will duke it out with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line when the Panthers meet Louisiana tomorrow night in the Pensacola Bay Center. If you can’t make it down in person, you can catch the action live nationally on ESPN2 or on radio with the Voice of the Panthers, Dave Cohen, on 88.5 FM.
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