Georgia State’s senior day turned into an offensive explosion as the Panthers got back in the win column before the Sun Belt Conference tournament. For the second time this season and only the sixth time in Georgia State’s 44-year basketball history, the Panthers had three players score at least 20 points in the same game.
Senior Isaiah Williams scored 23 points, the Sun Belt’s leading scorer D’Marcus Simonds put up 21 and the conference’s leading 3-point shooter Devin Mitchell tallied 20 to help the Panthers avenge an earlier loss to South Alabama. The Panthers won Saturday’s game 90-75.
The victory ended a 1-4 slide and was a much-needed confidence booster for both the Georgia State offense and the defense as the team enters the Sun Belt Tournament next week as the No. 2 seed.
Below are five observations from the Panthers’ final game before the Sun Belt Tournament.
Senior balls out on senior day
It was only fitting that on senior day a player who has appeared in 92 career games for the Panthers was their offensive catalyst.
Williams got only his third start of the season, but put up a season-high 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. The 23 points also are the most he has scored in his three seasons at Georgia State. In his freshman season at Samford, he scored 26 points in a game.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Buford was the first Panthers player to have success driving the ball against the Jaguars defense. Instead of settling for outside shots, Williams bullied his way into paint and made a couple of nifty reverse layups to help Georgia State climb out of an early 20-11 hole.
“You are usually so pumped up for senior day, and one of two things happens, you play out your mind like (Williams) did or you struggle,” coach Ron Hunter said. “I thought he saw the ball go in early, and that helped him relax.”
In the final 1:55 of the first half, Williams scored seven points to turn a three-point Panthers lead into a nine-point halftime lead. After scoring 16 points in the opening half, he continued his hot shooting after the break by hitting a 3-pointer on the Panthers’ first possession.
Getting the defensive swagger back
During the Panthers’ 1-4 stretch, the defense was giving up an average of 79.4 points per game. By comparison, during its 10-game win streak earlier this season, the Panthers gave up 65.5 points per game.
While the 75 points South Alabama (14-17, 7-11) scored are closer to the bad stretch, Hunter was happy with the way his team clamped down after the first five minutes of the game.
“Energy. Playing hard. Deflecting passes. All of a sudden, they look at the shot clock and its running down. They are playing on their heels. That’s what we wanted to do,” Hunter said.
South Alabama scored 15 points in the first five minutes of Saturday’s contest, but managed only 55 points in the final 35 minutes of action. In first half South Alabama started 6-of-13, and ended the half going 4-for-18.
When a Jaguars player touched the ball in the paint, he immediately was surrounded by two or three Panthers. Georgia State (21-10, 12-6) forced South Alabama into becoming just a jump-shooting team. The 10th-ranked field-goal percentage defense in the nation held the Jaguars to 35.5 percent shooting and 10-of-33 on 3-point tries
Jordan Tyson makes big contribution
The sophomore plays an average of just over 10 minutes per game, but had to put in extra work Saturday after senior starter Jordan Sessions picked up two fouls in the first two and a half minutes of the game.
Tyson gave the Panthers valuable minutes at center in the first half. He scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting to go along with five rebounds – including three of the offensive variety -- and two blocks in 14 minutes. His nine points are a career-high.
He anchored a strong interior game for the Panthers, who scored 22 of their 44 first-half points from the painted area.
Hunter’s Tech brings energy to game
Around six minutes into the second half, Georgia State had lost some of its luster. It led by 10, but were coming off a couple of bad offensive possessions. That all changed when Hunter received a technical foul.
The Panthers committed two questionable fouls in a span of two seconds, which prompted Hunter to make a shooing motion with his hand. He said after the game, he was making the motion to his player, but the official took it as a disrespectful gesture to himself.
A livid Hunter had to be retrained by multiple players and coaches before getting free to take his jacket off.
“Rarely, rarely, rarely do I ever take off this nice jacket. I just got it from the cleaners this morning,” he said.
After the ensuing foul shots cut the lead to nine, Hunter was still so irate he starred down the official who made the technical foul call for the next several minutes.
“For a three-minute gap there I didn’t even know we were playing. I wanted to talk to the ref. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him. He stayed away, I wanted to apologize and say I love you. Then I look up and we are up 19,” Hunter said.
The Panthers’ offense, especially Mitchell, went into blitz mode after the free throws. Georgia State went on a 15-4 run, with Mitchell going 4-for-4 from 3-point range during that time, bringing the crowd inside the arena back to life.
It’s tourney time
Georgia State will travel to New Orleans for the Sun Belt Conference tournament, which begins Wednesday, however the second-seed Panthers won’t play their first game until 6 p.m. ET Friday.
Hunter’s ballclub will face the winner of the No. 7/10 game that takes place Wednesday. The Panthers are looking for their second Sun Belt Tournament crown after winning the title in 2015. This season marks the fourth time in the past five years that Georgia State has either claimed the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the tournament.
“I feel good,” Hunter said. “If you want to play Georgia State, you better be ready. I don’t care who we play because we will be ready Friday at 5 o’clock.”