Georgia State settled for a moral victory the first time it played George Mason, saddled with a three-point loss. On Wednesday night, the Panthers turned things around, beating the same team 61-57 at the Georgia State Sports Arena.
Sophomore Jihad Ali, a 6-foot-5 guard from King High School, scored a career-high 22 points and hit a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left to put his team on top for good.
“This was our best win of the year,” Georgia State Coach Rod Barnes said.
George Mason had its seven-game winning streak end, leaving the Patriots (15-8, 10-2) tied with Northeastern (15-8, 10-2) for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. Georgia State was able to shed a three-game losing streak.
Three weeks earlier, Georgia State (10-14, 4-8) lost 52-49 to George Mason at Fairfax, Va. The Panthers have been battling since.
“We had been playing teams close down the stretch,” Barnes said.
Trailing 51-48, Georgia State outscored George Mason 13-6 over the final 5:29. The Panthers cut the Patriots’ lead to 57-55 when Joe Dukes hit two free throws with 2:37 left.
Ali hit the game-deciding 3-pointer less than two minutes later to give Georgia State a 58-57 lead.
Ali connected on 9 of 13 shots from the field, including 2 of 4 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds, including five on the defensive end.
“I worked hard all week with Coach Barnes and Coach (Paul Graham),” Ali said. “They told me to stay in the gym and my time would come.”
Georgia State’s final points came on two free throws by Ousman Krubally, who finished with four points, and a free throw by Dukes, who scored 10 points.
In addition to Ali's clutch shot, Georgia State used box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses to disrupt the George Mason offense down the stretch. The Patriots did not score over the final 2:52.
“I said to the team, ‘Let's stop this streak of losing,'” Barnes said.
George Mason missed six of its first seven shots from the field and was held to only two points in the first six minutes of the game, but Georgia State wasn't all that opportunistic, building only a 4-2 lead.
George Mason was able to get its offense going and took control of the first half.
The Patriots used an 8-4 run to take a 10-8 lead and increased it to 20-18 when Isaiah Tate hit a 3-pointer. George Mason led 27-22 at halftime.
Both teams struggled around the perimeter in the first half. Georgia State shot just 29.6 percent (8 of 27) from the field, and kicked in seven turnovers. George Mason, in spite of 10 early points from Ryan Pearson, shot 34.5 percent (10 of 29) and had six turnovers in the opening half. Pearson finished with a team-best 13 points.
Georgia State opened the second half with a 13-7 run to take a 35-34 lead with 14:07 remaining. The Panthers led 53-51 when Ali hit a 3-pointer with 4:28 left.
“Jihad is a very good shooter and I told him this is something I had been waiting on because he would play a good game, play a bad game and play a good game,” Barnes said.
This was definitely a good game for Ali.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.