Panthers Win Slugfest in Mobile to Keep East Title Hopes Alive

Panthers Win Slugfest in Mobile to Keep East Title Hopes Alive

Evan Johnson had a career night against the Jaguars, putting up a personal best 28 points. Photo: Daniel Wilson, Georgia State Athletics

In a high-octane battle of the best in the Sun Belt East, Georgia State (13-5, 7-4 in Sun Belt) outlasted South Alabama (16-9, 10-6 in Sun Belt) 84-81 to win their fifth straight and set up a winner-take-all game for the division crown tomorrow in the regular season finale.

After South Alabama held a narrow 1-point at the break, the Panthers stormed out to a 52-45 lead on a 14-5 run in the opening minutes of the second half. They led the rest of the way, by as much as 11 with 11:15 remaining, but the Jaguars would not go away. A Michael Flowers three-pointer with 16 seconds left cut the Georgia State lead to 82-79. Corey Allen hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-score game again, but Sam Iorio was able to score at the other end on an offensive putback to make it a three-point game again with 3 seconds left. The Panthers were forced into a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass, but South Alabama couldn’t get a shot up at the final buzzer and Georgia State escaped with the win.

Freshman guard Evan Johnson came off the bench and lit up the scoreboard, leading the Panthers with a career-high 28 points on 8-12 shooting (6-9 from 3). Johnson’s six threes led the way for an outstanding shooting night for the Panthers as they shot 11-24 from 3 as a team and 19-21 from the free throw line. The Jaguars matched the electric shooting effort by the Panthers with one of their own, combining to shoot 15-37 as a team from beyond the arc, led by a game-high 32 points from Flowers, the Sun Belt’s leading scorer.

It was a three-point barrage all around from the opening tip. Ryan Boyce and Evan Johnson hit triples on back-to-back possessions to give Georgia State an early 15-6 with 14:41 left in the first half, but Kayo Goncalves hit three three-pointers of his own for the Jaguars to tie it at 15 less than two minutes later. South Alabama didn’t make a shot inside the perimeter until a Jamal West dunk with 7:54 to go until halftime, starting 0-of-10 on two-point attempts and 6-of-10 on threes. After Kane Williams got a layup to go through contact to give State a 33-28 lead with 4:55 left in the first half, the Jaguars rattled off the next eight points to take their first lead, 36-33, at the 3:23 mark. Eliel Nsoseme went on a personal 4-0 run to restore the Georgia State lead, but it would be South Alabama who went into the locker room with a slight 40-39 advantage after John Pettway’s layup with 31 seconds to go in the half.

Georgia State sophomore forward Jalen Thomas battled foul trouble throughout to provide 14 points and 7 rebounds, while Eliel Nsoseme put together his fourth double-double of the season with his 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sharpshooter Kayo Goncalves added 19 for South Alabama on 6-12 shooting from deep.

Whoever wins in the rematch between these two tomorrow will win the East Division regular season title and earn the 1 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Pensacola, FL starting on March 5. If Georgia State loses and Coastal Carolina also loses to Troy, the Panthers will be the 2 seed in the East. They’ll be the 3 seed with a loss and a Coastal win, losing their first-round bye in the tournament. The one for all the marbles tips off from the Mitchell Center at 7pm EST and can be seen on ESPN+.

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