Just when it seemed as if Georgia State coach Ron Hunter found a combination of players to turn around his team’s season, the same problems crept up in Tuesday’s 57-49 loss to Arkansas-Little Rock at the GSU Sports Arena.
The Panthers’ offense disappeared for just long enough in the second half, the turnovers continued and a rebounding disadvantage led to the team falling to its seventh loss in eight games. Georgia State will host Arkansas State on Saturday as it attempts to remain one of the top eight teams in the Sun Belt and receive a berth to the tournament in New Orleans.
After scoring 29 points on 13-of-25 shooting in the first half, more than half of the points from Jordan Session and Isaiah Williams, the Panthers scored 20 points on 5-of-22 shooting in the second half.
Trailing by four with three minutes left, the Panthers twice stopped the Trojans, but couldn’t score on either possession to at least tie the score. On the Trojans’ third possession, they grabbed an offensive rebound following a missed 3-pointer. Lis Shoshi received a pass in the corner and made a 3-pointer to ice the victory.
Here are four observations from the game:
Mathematical elimination. Not that the odds were great, but Georgia State (13-11, 6-9) was mathematically eliminated from winning the Sun Belt’s regular-season title with Tuesday’s loss. When the teams tipped off, the Panthers trailed the league-leading Trojans (23-3, 13-2) by six games with six remaining.
Hunter said he hasn’t paid any attention to the standings and probably won’t. He said he is just worried about the next game. The Panthers came in seventh in the Sun Belt and are in eighth with Thursday’s loss.
A new starter. Hunter started sophomore Jordan Session in place of senior T.J. Shipes. Hunter said earlier in the week that he likes that Session will take the 15-foot jumper. Shipes is good on defense and rebounding, but is limited on offense. The move worked early. Making the second start of his career, Session made a 15-foot baseline jumper to give the Panthers a 4-0 lead. He followed that with an offensive rebound and putback on the next possession and added another baseline jumper a few minutes later. He even made just the second 3-pointer of his career and finished the first half with 11 points (tying his career high) on 5-of-7 shooting.
That was it practically it for Session on offense. He missed his only shot of the second half.
Hunter said that the Trojans made adjustments to how they defended screens in the second half, which took away Session’s open looks.
Another change. Kevin Ware moved into the point guard role early in the game. Isaiah Williams and Isaiah Dennis have struggled running the offense during the losing streak. The move seemed to free Williams. He scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first half. He was shooting 30.6 percent this season.
Like Session, that was practically it for him in the game. Williams missed his only two shots in the second half.
Hunter said he thinks Williams’ confidence was shaken following a turnover early in the second half.
The offense still has issues. As well as Session and Williams shot, the issues with the offense still aren’t fixed. The Panthers closed the first half with a 4-minute, 16-second scoreless streak. Still, the team shot 52 percent in the first half. The Trojans went on a 5-0 run during Georgia State’s scoreless stretch to stay in the game, 29-20.
In the second half the offense began to turn into a series of one-on-ones. Following a turnover by Ware, Josh Hagins completed a three-point play to give the Trojans a 35-34 lead with 14:57 left. A turnover by Session, which happened because he was hit in the face but none of the three officials saw it, led to two free throws by Marcus Johnson Jr. and a three-point lead. Williams lost his dribble, which the Trojans converted into another easy layup.
Trailing by four, the Panthers went more than six minutes without a field goal in the second half, from an Austin Donaldson layup with 9:12 left to a 3-pointer by Donaldson with 3:09 left that cut Georgia State’s deficit to four. The Panthers had chances, but missed a few layups, a free fre throws in one-and-ones, and were unable to cut into Little Rock’s lead. The Panthers committed 12 turnovers that the Trojans turned into 20 points.
Jeremy Hollowell and Ware, the team’s leading scorers, couldn’t bail out the offense. Hollowell missed 9 of 12 shots and Ware missed 7 of 8.
Hunter said the two have to play better. He said the worst thing that happened to Ware was his success hitting 3-pointers at the beginning of the season. Now, instead of driving to the basket, he settles for threes and isn’t making enough of them. He missed his two attempts on Thursday.
Defense bounces back, but not for long. Georgia State’s defense has also struggled during its losing streak, but played strongly in the first half. The Trojans shot 28.1 percent, including 1-of-8 on 3-pointers. It stayed in the game by grabbing nine offensive rebounds. Though they led to only four points, they kept hot-shooting Georgia State from building on its lead.
Things changed in the second half. The Trojans took advantage of two offensive rebounds before finally making a 3-pointer to cut Georgia State’s lead to 34-32. A tip-in increased the Trojans’ lead to three. A three-point play by Roger Woods gave Georgia State a six-point deficit with 12:29 left. Georgia State was outrebounded 40-29, including 16-6 on offense.