After a humbling 94-78 loss at the hands of Richmond, Georgia State needed answers to reset their momentum at this weekend’s Legends Classic in High Point, NC. And, as it turned out, they would have to do it without their top scorer Corey Allen, who was injured in the Panthers’ loss to the Spiders last Tuesday night. After a comfortable win over William & Mary on Saturday, Georgia State had to withstand a tough test and an extra five minutes of basketball in the championship game against High Point, but they got the job done, winning 74-66 in overtime. The two wins in North Carolina this weekend improved Georgia State’s record to 4-1 on the year.
Georgia State lost a double-digit lead in the second half and were forced to play the extra period, but State outscored HPU 15-7 in OT on their way to a win. A Justin Roberts three-pointer gave them a 64-60 lead about halfway through the period, and though High Point answered with a layup at the other end, an Evan Johnson three-point in response gave them a multi-score lead they would never relinquish. Georgia State went 7 of 8 from the free throw line to clinch the win and bring a trophy back to Atlanta.
Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier said he was “proud of the team for handling some real adversity that the game threw.” He mentioned that that was a point of emphasis for the team and said, “Tonight, we were presented with the opportunity and we met the challenge, so I’m excited about that.”
Justin Roberts led all scorers with 25, making 3 of 4 attempted three-pointers and 10 of 14 free throws. Kane Williams scored 21, making it two straight games with 20+ points for the super-senior, and he earned Tournament MVP honors. Freshman Ja’Heim Hudson spelled Jalen Thomas, who battled foul trouble all afternoon, and earned his first collegiate double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. 7 of those rebounds for Hudson came at the offensive end. High Point were led jointly by Jaden House and John-Michael Wright, who each had 17.
Georgia State were outshot 52-45% in the first half by High Point, but the Panthers relied on Kane Williams and Justin Roberts a heaping dose of transition offense to take a 36-30 lead into the break. They finished the first 20 minutes with 12 and 10 points respectively. High Point led most of the half, but Georgia State took their first lead since 2-0 when a Kane Williams layup made it 22-20 with 7:02 to go in the half and they led the rest of the way.
State led by as much as 10 in the second half against their Panther compatriots but couldn’t push the lead any higher, and High Point got back in the game. HPU cut the deficit to 2 on multiple occasions and then retook the lead when John-Michael Wright buried a corner three with 5:03 to go. That made it 56-55 High Point, though the lead only lasted 18 seconds and a Kane Williams basket restored Georgia State’s advantage. They led 59-57 after two Williams free throws with 2:38 on the clock but couldn’t hold the lead and a Rob Peterson III evened matters with 1:05 left. A Justin Roberts runner at the buzzer didn’t fall and that meant fre basketball at Qubein Arena for the first time in its short history.
Georgia State got to the championship game with a 77-59 victory Saturday over William & Mary. Kane Williams stepped up in the stead of the injured Corey Allen with a 23-point, 9-rebound, 6-assist outing to lead all players in the game in all three categories. Evan Johnson added 17 off the bench. At the defensive end, Georgia State held the Tribe to 35% shooting and 24% from 3. In the other semifinal, High Point outlasted Howard 73-63 to set up the Sunday finale.
On a personal note, Coach Lanier called it “special” for him to get to coach mano-a-mano with High Point coach Tubby Smith, who won a national title with Kentucky in 1998 and has compiled 631 Division I wins over a storied 30-year career. Coach Lanier joked, “I’m not a young guy anymore, but I’ve got tremendous admiration for him.” He went on, “He’s had his imprint on the history of the game, so it was an honor for me to have the opportunity to coach against Tubby and, after the game, to be able to share a moment with him that was really meaningful for me as a coach.”
Georgia State is off until next Saturday, when they head to the Ocean State to face the Rhode Island Rams. Tipoff in the Ryan Center goes at 4pm Eastern and the action can be seen on ESPN+.