Georgia State made a return to action after the cancellation of their scheduled game Wednesday against Tennessee State, but it wasn’t a happy return as the Panthers fell 83-77 to Mercer in Hawkins Arena on Saturday afternoon to fall to 4-3 on the season. Georgia State held a 38-36 lead at the break, led by a sharp 6-of-13 shooting performance behind the arc in the first half, but they couldn’t stop the two-headed monster of Mercer’s James Glisson III and Jalen Johnson, who led the Bears with 25 and 19 points respectively. A 7-0 run between the two of them extended Mercer’s lead to 67-57 with 7:49 left in the game, and despite a fierce comeback attempt late, the Panthers fell short when the Bears made 7 of 8 free throws in the game’s final four minutes.
The Panthers finished a sterling 14-of-30 from behind the three-point line but allowed Mercer to shoot 53% from the floor (31-of-58). The Bears also shot an efficient 8-of-19 from 3. Georgia State’s loss wasted an excellent shooting day for junior Nelson Phillips, who led the Panthers with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Phillips made 5 of his attempted 7 three-pointers, a career high. He led four Georgia State players who finished in double digits, as Kane Williams and Justin Roberts each scored 14 and Corey Allen added 13. Felipe Haase joined Glisson III and Johnson in double digits for Mercer with 13 points of his own.
Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier put it plain after the game, crediting Mercer as “the better team today.” He said, “They obviously made a concerted effort to go inside against us and we didn’t have much resistance on defense in the paint and we didn’t have much of a presence in the paint ourselves.” Coach Lanier went on, “Some of that is a byproduct of the makeup of our team as it is right now (without Eliel Nsoseme and, today, Ja’Heim Hudson), but it’s not a reason for the game to go the way it is.”
It was the Panthers’ first action since last Saturday at Rhode Island and the first time with a near-full complement of players since their overtime win over High Point on November 21. The only absentee from the usual rotation was freshman forward Ja’Heim Hudson. The rustiness showed in the early going as Georgia State made just 3 of their first 12 attempts from the floor. Mercer took advantage by leading most of the first 20 minutes. A Kamar Robertson layup with 8:05 to go in the half gave the Bears their largest lead of 22-15. But from there, the Panthers made it a game, scoring the next seven points to tie the game a little under two game minutes later.
Corey Allen started the game wearing a facial mask to protect an injury he sustained in the team’s loss to Richmond, but he quickly removed it and heated up thereafter, hitting two three-pointers in quick succession. And when his teammates Kane Williams and Nelson Phillips hit threes on back-to-back possessions late in the half, Georgia State went from trailed 33-30 to leading 36-33 – their first lead since 4-2 very early on. A Nelson Phillips steal on the next possession gave them their greatest lead of the half at 5, but a three-point play for Mercer forward James Glisson III with 15.5 seconds to go made it just a two-point advantage for the Panthers at the break.
On what improvements have to come for the team, Coach Lanier said, “The bottom line is, we got to get a little bit tougher, we got to fight harder, and we have to continue to develop into a team that, in adverse situations, we have the resolve to execute, to defend, to get stops.”
Georgia State has a chance to get right back after it when they host NAIA Voorhees College at the Sports Arena on Monday night. Tip-off on the Third Floor goes at 7pm Eastern and the action will be broadcast on ESPN+.