Panthers Slump Out of the Sun Belt Tourney, Fall Again at Home to Rivals Georgia Southern
With a berth in the semifinals in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on the line, Georgia State (19-13) couldn’t avenge their loss two weeks ago at home to bitter rival Georgia Southern (20-13), who asserted their will on the Sports Arena floor for the second game running in a 81-62 victory. The Eagles will advance to face Little Rock on Saturday in New Orleans. This is the second win in a row in Atlanta for the Eagles after not having won here against the Panthers since 1992.
Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier said he was “disappointed” at the result but he was complimentary of the opponent today, saying, “A lot of credit goes to Georgia Southern.” He later added, “At this point in the season, Georgia Southern were the better team. They played better, they were more connected, they had more veteran leadership and they made plays.” Coach Lanier opined that his team were “not quite ready for primetime” at key times in the season but he felt the promise in some “good steps forward” and said the year was “a great learning experience for [him] in a lot of ways,” as well as for the players and for the staff.
Poor shooting doomed the Panthers to elimination from a possible NCAA Tournament bid. They shot 38% all game, including a paltry 4-27 from 3. The lone offensive bright spot was junior Kane Williams, who led the Panthers with 20 points and 3 of the team’s 4 made threes. Senior Damon Wilson added double digits with 10 in what will likely be his final game in a Georgia State uniform. Isaiah Crawley picked up where he left off last time and put in a Player of the Game performance for the Eagles with 15 points and 16 rebounds – 9 of them on the offensive glass. Quan Jackson led the Eagles with 19 points.
Mirroring the last time these two played in the Sports Arena on February 28, Georgia Southern had the early edge in this game, taking advantage of a cold Georgia State shooting start to take a 15-6 lead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with all that was on the line in this tournament in addition to all that this in-state rivalry adds, there was a lot of emotion in this game from the tip. This energy boiled over with 13:05 in the half, when Georgia State’s Kavonte Ivery and Georgia Southern’s David-Lee Jones Jr picked up double technicals following some chippiness after a whistle. The Panthers played from behind most of the half but stayed in the game and – unlike last time – took a lead at 28-27 on a made Damon Wilson layup with 3:42 until the break. The Eagles jumped back on top with four straight on baskets by Crawley and Wishart but Georgia State was able to cut the deficit back to a single point on a Kane Williams buzzer-beater 3. Southern entered the locker room with a 34-33 lead.
The game continued in its back-and-forth nature to start the second half, with Georgia Southern scoring the first four points and Georgia State answering with four of their own. The Panthers took what would ultimately be their last lead at 39-38 on a Nelson Phillips floater with 14:48 left. The shooting woes for Georgia State compounded in the second half, as they faltered with just 36% shooting (10-28) and 1-14 beyond the arc in the second half. Georgia Southern rode the momentum and pushed their lead to double digits when an Ike Smith dunk made it 59-48 at the 5:58 mark. They didn’t look back, leading by as much as 22 on their way to the convincing win.
Coach Lanier confirmed in his postgame press conference the team had accepted a postseason invitation but that that tournament had been cancelled. As a result and with no NCAA or NIT bids looming, the Panthers’ season will end at 19-13.