It was a tale of two halves for Georgia State, but despite shooting 20% from the field in the second half, they made an 18-point halftime lead stick and prevailed over South Alabama 69-62 on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers scored their highest single-half point total of the season against D1 competition with 42 in the first half, but a switch to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half by the Jaguars gave them major issues. As the missed shots piled up for Georgia State, what was once a 23-point lead dwindle all the way down to 4 with under 30 seconds to play. But spearheaded by a 24-28 day at the free throw line as a team, the Panthers made enough plays at both ends of the court to escape with the victory.
Senior guard Kane Williams was the main force behind Georgia State’s excellent day at the charity stripe, making all 11 of his attempts. He led the team with 17 points and 6 assists. Jalen Thomas added 11 points off the bench to go with 5 rebounds and starters Eliel Nsoseme and Justin Roberts each finished with 10. Jay Jay Chandler was the catalyst for South Alabama’s second-half surge, scoring 21 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. At one point, he went on a personal 9-point scoring run for the Jaguars as they were able to force turnovers and quick misses in their zone defense and push the tempo in transition. Down 68-62 in the final 20 seconds, though, Chandler couldn’t get an open three-pointer to fall that would’ve cut the deficit to a single possession. The threat wasn’t over until Jalen Thomas brought down the defensive rebound on Diante Smith’s follow-up shot, but when he did, the Panthers clinched their third win in their last four games.
Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier admitted that college basketball seasons can be draining when results aren’t going your way, saying, “When you struggle as a team, the grind of the season is hard to enjoy. The film studies, the practices, the weight training and the travel, all that stuff feels better when you win.” He noted the team’s last three losses had come by a combined 9 points and so praised his team for fighting through a rough patch. Lanier said, “For us to turn around and win three out of four, it says that our team has a little bit of mettle.”
Coach Lanier credited South Alabama’s zone defense in the second half for taking his team out of the rhythm they had found so well earlier in the game. He thought some missed shots on open looks against the zone in the first half played with his shooters’ confidence later in the game, saying, “Our guys, it got into their heads a little bit, and so the zone picked up some momentum for [South Alabama] and created a run.” He talked about an element of what he called ”playing not to lose instead of just continuing to play” crept into the team over the final minutes, but said “[they] found a way to get it done at the end.”
Freshman forward Jamall Clyce made his first career start in place of Ja’Heim Hudson. Coach Lanier said Clyce was battling through an injury which was limiting his minutes, but he had earned a start due to his work on the practice court. He said, “He was feeling good and practicing well, so we injected him in there with the hope that he could help us.” The change-up worked like a dream, as Georgia State stormed out to an early double-digit lead. The Panthers made 5 of their first 8 shots while forcing South Alabama to miss eight of their first 10, and an Evan Johnson three-pointer with 12:58 to go in the half gave them a 18-4 lead and forced Jaguars coach Richie Riley to use his first timeout. That timeout sparked his team’s sluggish offense and they soon hit a stretch with five consecutive made shots, three of them from beyond the arc.
The problem for South Alabama was that they couldn’t stop Georgia State at the other end, as the Panthers shot 50% (15-30) from the floor during the first half. They were hot from all over the court, making 5 of 12 three-pointers after hitting just 6 as a team in Thursday’s loss to Troy. And after being credited just 3 assists on Thursday, they had 9 in the first half alone Saturday afternoon. The Jaguars made just one field goal over the final five minutes of the half and Georgia State took a 42-24 lead into the locker room when Kane Williams got an off-balance three-pointer to fall as time expired – an exclamation point on the Panthers’ best half of the season to date.
Coach Lanier mentioned he and his staff have continued to emphasize the team’s work at the defensive end in practice, and of that aspect of today’s game, he said, “I thought we were good.” He specifically credited them for limiting South Alabama to just 4-20 on three-pointers. He also praised the Panthers’ performance on the glass, as they out-rebounded the Jaguars 35-30 and allowing just 7 offensive boards.
And Georgia State will continue to lean on that defense as they hit the road next week for Sun Belt showdowns with the Carolina schools, both of whom beat the Panthers in the Sports Arena in the month of January. First up is a chance for revenge against the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina on Thursday night. Tipoff at the HTC Center is at 7pm Eastern and all the action will be live on ESPN+.