A late rally wasn’t enough. The streaking Panthers were upset at home Saturday afternoon by a struggling conference opponent.
Hosting Louisiana-Monroe, the third-from-last place team in the Sun Belt Conference, Georgia State played a lackadaisical first 30 minutes. It came back from 14 down to force overtime, but fell short 90-82.
Here are five observations from the Panthers’ first loss since Dec. 31:
Final push: Georgia State should be applauded for fighting back even though it proved too little, too late.
The Panthers filled six minutes in the second half with a 13-2 run to trim their deficit to five, at 62-57. D’Marcus Simonds pulled the team to within three with 6:02 left, and Jordan Session’s dunk cut it to two, at 69-67, with a little under five minutes left.
Devin Mitchell made an open 3-point shot with 42 seconds remaining to tie the score at 73-73. Louisiana-Monroe responded with a 3 of its own.
Simonds, who at times single-handily kept GSU’s hopes alive as he scored 39 points, made a layup to make the score 76-75 with 25 seconds left. The Panthers forced a turnover, and Simonds was fouled on his next shot attempt, making 1 of 2 at the line to even it again.
After outscoring the Warhawks 40-29 in the second half, Louisiana-Monroe topped GSU 14-6 in the extra period.
“Give Monroe credit,” coach Ron Hunter said. “This is what happens. You’ve got to come ready to play in this league. We didn’t have enough guys. We had guys I thought took the day off, to be honest with you.”
Bad call: The Warhawks had the ball with six seconds remaining in regulation. Jordan Harris missed a floater, and Jeff Thomas snagged the rebound and heaved an almost full-court shot as time expired.
But the replay showed Thomas was blatantly fouled on his miracle shot attempt. It would’ve given Thomas three free throws, needing just one to win the game outright.
“I think they (the officials) knew they blew it,” Hunter said. “I don’t know what they were looking at the monitor for, can’t go back and call a foul. They just blew it at the end. But that’s not why we lost. We lost the game because we stunk defensively.”
Sloppy start: The Panthers sleep-walked through most of the first half.
Louisiana-Monroe used a 9-0 run to gain a 17-7 lead at the 10:44 mark. GSU had shot 29 percent to that point and missed all seven shots during a 5:07 scoring drought until Simonds made a jumper.
Simonds had 17 of the team’s 36 first-half points. Jordan Session scored 10, while the rest of the group combined for just nine, courtesy of the 3-ball.
The dismal offensive showing came just two days after the Panthers torched first-place Louisiana-Lafayette for 104 points in their biggest win of the season. Hunter said he thought his team was still drained from that, and it may have had an effect Saturday.
Louisiana-Monroe’s lead ballooned to 30-16 six minutes before the break. The Panthers cut it to single-digits at 35-26 with three minutes to go, but the Warhawks sat ahead comfortably 47-36 at half.
A step slow: Hunter maintained his team just didn’t have the energy. On defense, it looked like they were stuck in mud at times, according to their coach.
“We looked like a mentally tired basketball team today,” Hunter said. “We really did. We looked like we were carrying the world on our backs.”
That exhaustion was reflected in the Panthers’ unusually poor shooting. They shot 8-for-29 beyond the arc, a crucial miscue by a team that normally hits 39 percent of its 3’s.
“We forced some,” Hunter said. “But we had a lot of shots we normally make. We just missed.”
Monroe converted 14 of 33 3-point attempts. Hunter credited forward Sam McDaniel and acknowledged stretch-fours are often a bad matchup.
Streak busters: The Panthers had won 10 in a row, securing a top two spot in the conference despite an 0-2 start. Their streak was the ninth longest in the nation.
But it’s a bad loss no matter how you view it. Georgia State has two home contests left, against Troy and South Alabama. Their next two games are on the road against teams chasing them, Georgia Southern and Texas State.
The loss also puts the Panthers two back of Louisiana-lafayette in the loss column, despite beating them Thursday. They won’t meet again in the regular season.
Louisiana-Monroe lost its first 10 road games before beating Georgia Southern in overtime Thursday. Maybe the Warhawks like playing in Georgia.
“Good weekend for them,” Hunter said.