Georgia State guard Justin Roberts (right). AJC file photo
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Defense, fast start lift Georgia State to victory

Georgia State again leveraged its hard-nosed defense into a crucial conference win. 

The Panthers forced 17 turnovers and limited Appalachian State to 32.8% shooting from the field and 23.8% on 3-pointers and rolled to a 76-65 win on Thursday at the GSU Sports Arena. 

“There’s a correlation for sure, the better we play defensively will translate to some good offense,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. 

Georgia State opened the game with a 23-3 lead and survived numerous Appalachian State second-half runs to finally secure its tenth home win in 11 tries. The victory gives Georgia State (17-9, 10-5 Sun Belt) a sweep in the season series between two clubs and keeps the Panthers tied with Georgia Southern for second place in the conference behind Little Rock. 

“We did some things that we emphasize,” Lanier said. “We started to look like the team that we want to come. We’ve shown spurts of it throughout the course of the year. I thought today was probably the longest stretch of … if this is what we want to be, this is the closest thing to it.” 

Georgia State had four players in double figures: Justin Roberts with 17, Nelson Phillips with 16, Kane Williams with 15 and Damon Wilson with 10. 

Georgia State was 13-for-25 on 3-pointers, with Roberts knocking down five and Phillips making four. 

The Panthers had 17 assists on 26 field goals with Wilson and Kane Williams each getting five. 

“When we start sharing the responsibility defensively, we share the ball better offensively,” Lanier said. “We still fall victim to that sometimes, but I think they’re learning.” 

Roberts also turned in another fine defensive effort on Appalachian State’s Justin Forrest, the team’s leading scorer. Forrest, the son of former Georgia Tech great James Forrest, worked hard for his 11 points, making only 3-for-19 from the floor. 

“We wanted to get after him and make him work, because if we sit back, he is so good at going downhill, which you saw in the second half,” Lanier said. 

Appalachian State (14-12, 8-7) got 24 points and seven rebounds from James Lewis Jr. and 17 points from Macon’s O’Showen Williams. 

The Georgia State defense was superb for most of the first half. The Panthers scored the first nine points of the game, with Appalachian State not getting its first basket until the clock was down to 15:11.

From that point, Georgia State reeled off 14 straight points and held a 23-3 lead with 9:40 left after Jones converted a three-point play. The lead reached as many as 21 points when Roberts drained a 3-pointer to make it 34-13 with 5:32 left. 

But Appalachian State went on a 9-0 run and was able to cut the lead to 12 points on three occasions before Williams added a pair of late baskets to give Georgia State a 41-26 halftime lead. 

The Mountaineers trailed by as 18 early in the second half before chipping away, eventually cutting the lead to seven points on a Lewis layup that made it 56-47 with 8:23 left. 

Georgia State responded with a 3-pointer by Roberts and a layup by Thomas to regain the 12-point lead, but the victory wasn’t assured until back-to-back 3s from Phillips and Roberts with 4:55 left in the game. 

“We had some moments when we regressed a little bit,” Lanier said. “But I do think this is the first time in three weeks now where I really walk away feeling like we really got better.” 

Georgia State plays again at home on Saturday against Coastal Carolina.

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