Shutdown Defense Seals Panthers’ Season Sweep Over Southern

Justin Roberts, in action during the 2019/20 season. Roberts led the Panthers’ with 14 points in today’s 58-49 rivalry win over Georgia Southern. Photo: Jordan Crawford,

It wasn’t easy and at times it didn’t look likely, but after closing the game on a 17-3 run, Georgia State escaped Statesboro with a 58-49 win over their rivals Georgia Southern and completed the season sweep. The win makes it three straight in the series between the in-state foes for the Panthers after dropping two straight against the Eagles at the end of head coach Rob Lanier’s first season in charge. It’s also the team’s fifth straight win and seventh in eight games as they’ve rewritten their destiny in the Sun Belt standings. The 49 points allowed meant it was State’s third straight road game holding their opponents to 50 points or less on their home court.

It was a 28-21 Eagles halftime lead, in large part due to a sub-30% shooting performance in the first half by the Panthers, and Southern led by as much as 12 early in the second half. But trailing 46-41 with 7:44 remaining, State held their opponents without a made field goal the rest of the game. After a pair of Ja’Heim Hudson free throws cut the deficit to three, Justin Roberts went on a 5-0 run himself and gave the Panthers their first lead since 10-9 with 6:25 remaining. Kane Williams missed his first four shots of the afternoon but was able to step up when it counted. He hit a key three-pointer which gave State a five-point lead with 2:42 remaining and hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute-and-change to help salt the win away.

Justin Roberts was the Panthers’ leading scorer with 14, shooting 4-7 from downtown. Despite his quieter afternoon shooting the ball, Williams still led all participants with 6 assists and came up with 2 vital steals. After a first half in which Georgia Southern forward Andrei Savrasov dominated with 17 points, the Panthers’ defense down low came up big in the final 20 minutes. Forwards Jalen Thomas and Ja’Heim Hudson combined for 7 blocks on the afternoon, with 5 of those coming in the second half. The effort in the paint was especially key in State forcing Southern to miss all ten of their final attempts from the floor and all but one of their last 14. Hudson also brought down a game-high 9 rebounds, helping lead State to an all-important 22-13 advantage on the glass in the second half and a 38-32 edge overall.

Coach Lanier was happy with the fight his team showed down the stretch to pull out this win, saying, “We didn’t necessarily play with great urgency over the first 25, 30 minutes, but we stayed close enough to make a run.” He said that the win “speaks to the growing, developing toughness and connectedness that we’re seeing with this team.”

There wasn’t any single Xs-and-Os improvement Coach Lanier pointed to with regards to the defense holding Andrei Savrasov to just 4 points in the second half, instead crediting his guys for digging in when they needed to and saying, “As the game went on and we found ourselves in a hole, I think the overall level of urgency ramped up and we did a good job on [him].” He had a lot of praise for the Eagles’ top scorer, a redshirt junior forward from St Petersburg, Russia, adding, “Guys don’t usually move [Eliel Nsoseme] around like that.” 

Just like on Thursday, Georgia State were the aggressors from the opening tip, with a pair of Justin Roberts three-pointers in the first two and a half minutes leading them to an early 8-2 advantage. But the man of the hour in the first half was Andrei Savsarov, surpassing his 10.4 ppg average in the first half alone with a game-leading 17 points. Savrasov was causing problems for the Panthers on the interior and from the outside, as he shot 7-9 from the floor and a perfect 3-3 from downtown in the first half. And after getting outrebounded by 18 in the loss on Thursday, Southern responded by taking a 20-16 advantage in the category into the locker room. The 6 offensive rebounds they collected in the first half alone was double the number they had in the whole game two nights ago. The Eagles fed it down low to the tune of 18 paint points in the half and State finished on a 5+ minute scoring drought to leave them down 28-21 at the interval.

Coach Lanier continued to be pleased with the team’s buy-in at the defensive end after this win and went out of his way after the game to praise the job that Corey Allen did on that side of the ball. The senior from Detroit, Michigan had a quiet shooting night, scoring just 4 on 2-9 shooting, but Coach Lanier said of his performance, “Corey made a big difference in this game and you really can’t see it on the stat page.” He liked what he saw from Allen in the other facets of his game and said the performance embodied the mentality of “Let’s go out a winner”, driven by a desire to help the team in whatever way he can, even when his shot isn’t falling.

The Panthers’ road schedule is now complete, as they’ll play host to the Louisiana schools in their final two regular season games in the GSU Sports Arena next week. The final week of on-court action in the Sports Arena ever, with the team’s upcoming move to the brand-new Convocation Center next season, starts when ULM comes to Atlanta on Wednesday night. Tip-off on the Third Floor will go at 7pm Eastern and the game can be seen live on ESPN+.

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