Panthers Triumphant Over Trojans on Senior Night, Earn Top-4 Sun Belt Finish
On a night where a win was most imperative, Georgia State (19-12, 12-8 in Sun Belt) were up to the task, beating Little Rock (21-10, 15-5 in Sun Belt) 89-70 in their regular season finale and getting a little help to lock up a top-4 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. After leading for most of the game’s first 25 minutes, the Panthers briefly fell behind 58-56 with just under 14 and a half minutes to play. They answered this adversity by going on a 20-1 run to take a commanding lead and put the game beyond doubt. Damon Wilson shined on his Senior Night, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first half and shooting an efficient 7-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the line. Junior guard Kane Williams led the Panthers with 21 points, shooting a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line. As a team, Georgia State shot an efficient 51% from the floor and 50% from 3. For the Trojans, Kamani Johnson had 24 to lead all scorers.
The level of urgency from the Panthers was apparent from the opening tip – which Senior Night honoree Chris Clerkley won – taking an 8-2 lead to start. Little Rock got a couple All-Sun Belt minutes from their soon-to-be All Sun-Belt guard Markquis Nowell as he scored five straight to give the Trojans a 9-8 lead. His 10 first-half points, however, was all from the sophomore guard before he exited the game shortly after and would not return. In a reversal of roles from their last game against Georgia Southern, Georgia State were the aggressors and held the lead most of the half. They forced 8 Trojan turnovers and got to the line, making 17 of 19 free throw attempts. A Ruot Monyyong layup cut the Little Rock deficit to 34-31 before Georgia State stormed to the locker room, closing on a 13-6 run for a 47-39 halftime lead.
Little Rock took advantage of Georgia State’s slow start out of the locker rooms by asserting their presence on the inside, making 7 of their first 10 shots and slowing the pace of the game by drawing fouls. Despite trailing by as much as 9 early in the half, the Trojans fought back and took their first lead since 20-18, 58-56, on a Ben Koupet Jr three-pointer. With their backs against the wall and a tournament bye to play for, the Panthers put together their best stretch of the game at both ends, holding the Trojans scoreless for 6:25 as they racked up turnovers and empty possessions. A Jalen Thomas hook shot made it a double-digit lead at 70-59 and it got as high as 17 before a pair of Nikola Maric free throws ended the Little Rock scoring drought. A Nelson Phillips three-pointer in the final minute both cemented the final margin and gave Georgia State their largest lead of the game at 19.
Georgia Southern’s loss to Arkansas State in tandem with this win means Georgia State will be the 4-seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament starting later this week. The teams are tied with 12-8 conference record and split their head-to-head matchups, but the Panthers win the tiebreaker due to their superior record against the #1 team in the conference – tonight’s opponent, Little Rock. Georgia State’s next game will be next Wednesday, March 11 at home in the Sports Arena. They will host one of the 5-seed, Georgia Southern, the 8-seed, Louisiana, or the 9-seed, Arkansas State, with a place in the semifinals in New Orleans, LA up for grabs. Tipoff is at 7pm EST.