Junior D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State’s leading scorer, struggled with his 3-point shot for a majority of the game, but responded late to lead Panthers to an 89-76 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night at the GSU Sports Arena.
Simonds was 2-for-7 in 3-point shooting, but finished 9-for-24 overall and made 5 of 8 free throws to end the night with 21 points.
Coach Ron Hunter said Simonds’ struggle to put up points is part of opponents’ plans to take him out of the picture. However, Hunter said it opens up opportunities for others on the team.
“I told D’Marcus the other day his visibility, everybody is game-planning for him. They are stacking the lane,” Hunter said.
Senior Malik Benlevi, who is the Panthers’ leading rebounder, is one of those players. He led the team in rebounds with nine. Benlevi also recorded 15 points, with a key 3-point shot to close out the first half.
The Panthers (12-4, 3-0 Sun Belt) led 32-29 at halftime and scored seven consecutive points to begin the second half, building a 39-29 lead with 18:04 left in the game.
“I got after them at half time, I thought we were playing lackadaisical, I didn’t think we played with energy,” Hunter said. “We came out for the second half and we got after it. But I think Malik’s 3 at the half was huge. Now you’re up three with the ball coming out, and hit a 3, and we never really looked back from there.”
Louisiana-Lafayette fought back by scoring a layup and four free throws, and worked its deficit to four points, 58-54, with 10:20 left in the game. Georgia State racked up fouls and put Louisiana-Lafayette on the line throughout the second half. Yet even with foul trouble and six turnovers, the Panthers held their lead.
Georgia State continued to pull away in the last five minutes of the game, blocking Louisiana-Lafayette shots, making its own, and sinking free throws. The Ragin’ Cajuns were not able to close the gap again, and the Panthers’ secured the game.
Louisiana-Lafayette tied the score at 19-19 with a layup at 10:06 in the first half. After back-and-forth missed shots for about two minutes, Georgia State’s sophomore Kane Williams made two free throws to regain the lead at 21-19. Louisiana-Lafayette stayed in the game, and tied the score three separate times in the last 10 minutes of the first half. But Georgia State answered each time to pull ahead.
The first lead change of the game did not come until 2:27 left in the first half when Louisiana-Lafayette put up a layup and the Ragin’ Cajuns led 27-25. After another lead change from Georgia State with two consecutive layups, Louisiana-Lafayette tied the score again with another layup, at 29-29, with 28 seconds left in the half. The Panthers answered with a 3-pointer from senior Malik Benlevi with five-seconds left to close the first half and regain the lead 32-29.
Hunter said Benlevi’s 3-pointer to end the half was a spark of momentum the team needed for the second half. It gave them a lead they didn't let go for the rest of the game.
“I keep saying, we aren’t playing pretty basketball, but we are playing winning basketball,” Hunter said. “And that’s a good thing. I want to make sure this team’s peaking offensively at the right time. So it’s a good win.”
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