Georgia State went on a 22-5 streak in the first half to run off and leave the University of Louisiana Monroe on Thursday on the way to a 65-51 win at the GSU Sports Arena.
“I’m having more fun coaching this team,” Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said. “They play with a chip on their shoulders. They’re really buying into it.”
The Panthers (11-3, 4-1 Sun Belt) had three players in double figures: Jeff Thomas with 14, Isaiah Williams with 10 and Jeremy Hollowell with 10.
ULM (6-10, 2-3 Sun Belt) was led by Prince Cooper with 12 points and Marcus Washington with 10.
It was the fourth straight win for Georgia State and the fifth straight victory over ULM.
Five observations from the game
An outstanding defensive effort for GSU: The Panthers rank third in the Sun Belt in defense (60.3 points) and showed why against ULM, limiting the Warhawks to only 23 points in the first half (their low for the season) and just 51 points for the game (their second lowest of the season).
“Our defense and our passion was really special,” Hunter said. “We took care of what we had to do at home.”
At the heart of the effort was the resolve to slow ULM’s Majok Deng, the skinny 6-foot-10 forward who leads the conference in scoring with 19.9 points per game. Deng scored only six points, his lowest output of the season. The Australian picked up his second personal foul with 12:05 left in the first half and sat out the next four minutes. He had little impact when he returned and scored only three points – all on free throws – in the first half.
“We never really closed out a game and tonight we did a little better,” Thomas said. “Our communication (needs to improve). We don’t talk that much as a team and communication is big for our defense.”
Georgia State limited ULM to 41 percent shooting from the floor.
Turnovers critical for Panthers: The ability to win the turnover battle was instrumental in GSU's one-sided win. The Panthers forced nine turnovers in the first half, which led to 17 points. Georgia State had only three first-half turnovers and ULM was unable to take advantage of any of them.
Georgia State wound up creating 13 turnovers and turning them into 27 points. The Panthers turned it over just five times for two points.
The turnovers helped offset a tepid shooting performance (44 percent) for GSU.
Knocking down the 3-pointers: Georgia State made eight 3-pointers, their second-highest total of the season. The Panthers were 8-for-19. The success came against a ULM defense that had allowed conference opponents to shoot just 22.4 percent from the field The Warhawks ranked 38th in the nation in 3-point defense.
Freshman Thomas was largely responsible for helping the Panthers race to a 41-23 halftime lead. The 6-foot-5 guard was 4-for-5 on 3-pointers in the first half. He didn’t add to the total in the second half and now leads the team with 24 threes. Thomas had only eight points in the three previous games.
“I felt like it was a big impact,” Thomas said. “It got the crowd going and it got the team going.”
Williams added two 3-pointers and Kevin Ware and Hollowell each had one.
Still perfect sans shoes: Georgia State coach Ron Hunter remains perfect while coaching without shoes. Hunter is 5-0 at Georgia State and 9-0 in his career while coaching in bare feet to support the charitable work of Samaritan's Feet. The annual event is Hunter's way to raise awareness of the 300 million children around the world who are without shoes.
“It’s always hard to coach in this game,” Hunter said. “I thank my team because they lift me up.”
Still hot in the Sun Belt: Georgia State improved to 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference, one game out of first place. The Panthers play again on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Louisiana Lafayette at the GSU Sports Arena. The Panthers have won 15 straight at home and are 33-1 there since the 2013-14 season.
“At first it didn’t affect me,” Thomas said. “Then we started winning and seeing more people coming to the game. R.J. only lost one home game while he was here and Ryan Harrow only lost one. I want to do better than that.”