Panthers Falter in Sun Belt Opening Loss to UTA

Photo by Jett Parker courtesy of Georgia State Athletics

An undermanned Georgia State mounted a furious comeback to overcome a late double-digit deficit but came up short in the end, falling 70-63 to UTA in their Sun Belt opener. The loss drops the Panthers to 6-6 in the 2021-22 season. It was the team’s first on-court action since the overtime loss to Georgia Tech on December 21. 

The Panthers held a narrow 32-31 halftime lead but shot just 35% from the floor in the final 20 minutes, going over five minutes without scoring at one point. The Mavericks only just outpaced Georgia State with a 36% shooting percentage in the half but shot 60% from 3 (6-10) and 79% from the charity stripe (11-14) in that time, compared to the Panthers’ 18% (2-11) and 38% (3-8). 

A Brandyn Talbot three-pointer at the end of the shot clock gave UTA their largest lead, 59-44, with 5:34 left. With their backs against the wall, Georgia State responded by scoring the next eight points unanswered and an Eliel Nsoseme layup made it 59-52 with 2:42 remaining. After taking advantage of multiple Maverick turnovers and empty possessions down the stretch, the Panthers were able to cut it to a single possession when a Justin Roberts three-pointer with 23.1 seconds to go made it 66-63. But Talbot made both free throws at the other end, Evan Johnson missed a three that could have made it a two-point game and the late heroics came up short.

UTA’s David Azore led all scorers with 17 points while Corey Allen led Georgia State with 15. Justin Roberts and Kane Williams added double digits in the backcourt as well, with 12 and 10 respectively. And the Panthers benefited from the long-awaited return of forward Eliel Nsoseme, who missed the team’s first 11 games due to injury. He played 23 minutes in his season debut, tallying 10 points and 7 rebounds and, most importantly, providing an instant impact at the defensive end which Georgia State had sorely missed. On the other side of things, they were without the services of one of their usual starting five, junior Nelson Phillips.

Georgia State only went 8 deep and head coach Rob Lanier mentioned the team had only had one day of practice together before this game, after the pause in the program due to Covid concerns last week. Coach Lanier admitted this left the team not “in great shape”, specifically singling out their lack of rhythm, but still called the loss a “disappointing outcome”. 

The Mavericks outrebounded Georgia State 51-32 over the full 40 minutes, brought on by a large 32-16 advantage in the second half. Scheme played a part in this, as the team’s lack of stamina and short bench heading into this game led Coach Lanier and his staff to play a lot more zone defense than they usually do. Coach Lanier credited UTA finding the soft spots in the zone to rebound and he gave them props for their ability to attack the zone in the second half and score at the end of long possessions. But Lanier added, “We didn’t play tough enough.” He went on, “I’d like to think if we’re in better shape, we do a better job of that…but we didn’t do enough other things well to compensate for that.”

The lead ping-ponged between the two teams in the first half. UTA held a 12-8 lead at the game’s first media timeout, but the Panthers quickly answered with an 8-0 run that coincided with Nsoseme’s first shift of the game. But the Mavs responded by scoring 15 of the game’s next 22 points, aided by a three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought by Georgia State, and held a 27-23 lead with 4:21 to go in the first half after a Montez Young Jr fastbreak dunk. A Jalen Thomas putback basket then finally ended the dry spell for the Panthers offense and the teams traded two made field goals apiece to give UTA a 31-29 lead in the final minute of the half. But a Corey Allen corner three-pointer with 9 seconds left gave Georgia State a one-point edge at the break.

Georgia State had its scheduled home game against Texas State on Saturday called off due to Covid concerns in the Bobcats’ program, so they will be idle for a full week and get back at it against South Alabama next Thursday. Tipoff at the Mitchell Center is at 9pm Eastern and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

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