Georgia State survives after blowing 20-PT lead, 85-82

Atlanta, Georgia - GSU guard Malik Benlevi (2) makes a dunk . (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)
Atlanta, Georgia - GSU guard Malik Benlevi (2) makes a dunk . (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)

At first, Georgia State made it look easy, shooting 57 percent in the first half while going up by 20 points against Louisiana-Lafayette at the GSU Sports Arena on Saturday afternoon. The second half was a different story. Louisiana-Lafayette, with guards Jay Wright and Frank Bartley IV combining for 51 points, closed to within one.

But Georgia State held ULL scoreless on its final two possessions to win 85-82.

Five things to be learned from Georgia State’s victory:

7 straight for the Panthers

Over their first 15 games, the Panthers were slowed by numerous injuries on the way to a 8-7 start. With a healthier roster, the Panthers have won seven straight, all conference victories to send them into first place in the Sun Belt Conference.

“Last year, we won 16 games and lost five games inside of four points,” coach Ron Hunter said. “We lost every single one, but this year we’ve won every single one inside of four points, the difference of just finishing and finding ways to win.”

Benlevi player of the game

Jeremy Hollowell and D’Marcus Simmonds are normally the trend-setters for the offense but this time, it was guard Malik Benlevi’s turn. Benlevi finished with 17 points and five rebounds while going 3 for 5 from 3-point range. With the Panthers protecting a one-point lead with three seconds left, Benlevi saved the day by putting pressure on Bryce Washington to force a missed lay-up and seal the victory.

Defense struggles again

This marked the second straight game where the Panthers allowed at least 80 points and permitted an opponent to shoot more than 45 percent. Despite holding the Ragin Cajuns to under 30 percent from 3-point range, the Panthers had no answers for Bartley, who brought his team back with 31 points and seven 3’s. Wright was another problem, finishing with 20 points.

Bench saves the day again

The Panthers’ saving grace this season has been their bench play and this game was no different. Reserves combined for 21 points compared to the Ragin Cajuns’ nine. Isaiah Dennis and Jeff Thomas lead the bench with eight points each. Dennis forced a deflection in the final seconds produced a terrible half-court shot at the end. Without the deflection, Wright had a makeable 3-point attempt from the top of the arc.

Turnovers costly

The Panthers had 18 turnovers for the second straight game and the Ragin Cajuns made them pay, scoring 24 points off those misplays. The Panthers were sloppy during the final stretch, converting no field goal attempts in the final five minutes.