Georgia State beats South Alabama to set up first-place showdown

Evan Johnson scored 28 for Georgia State. AJC file photo
Evan Johnson scored 28 for Georgia State. AJC file photo

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia State freshman Evan Johnson picked an ideal time to have his best game of his young career and now the Panthers are one win away from securing the Sun Belt Conference’s Eastern Division championship.

Johnson scored 28 points to lead the Panthers to an 84-81 win over South Alabama on Friday in Mobile, Ala. The win was the fifth straight for Georgia State, broke South Alabama’s eight-game winning streak and set up a winner-take-all game between the two teams for the division title on Saturday.

Johnson was 8-for-12 from the field and 6-for-9 on 3-point shots. He converted a crucial 4-point play with 2:20 remaining that gave Georgia State an eight-point lead. The Durham, N.C., native is one of three prized freshmen recruited by coach Rob Lanier. Johnson’s previous high was 20 points against Carver.

Georgia State led by 12 after Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 74-62 with 5:02 left. But South Alabama kept getting closer by knocking down 3-pointers -- they made 15 -- the last one by Michael Flowers with 16 seconds left that cut the lead to three points.

Georgia State’s Corey Allen made two free throws – the Panthers shot 90% from the line -- to restore Georgia State’s five-point edge with 14 seconds left, only to have South Alabama’s Sam Iorio drop in a layup with two seconds left to keep the Jags’ hopes alive. South Alabama’s Tyreke Locure stole the inbounds pass, but the Jaguars could not get off a final shot.

Georgia State (13-5, 7-4) also got 14 points and seven rebounds from Jalen Thomas, 14 points and seven assists from Kane Williams and 10 points and 11 rebounds from Eliel Nsoseme. Williams became the program’s No. 14 all-time scorer, surpassing Shellord Pinkett, who scored 1,176 points from 1994-98.

South Alabama (16-9, 10-6) was led by Flowers, considered the likely Sun Belt Player of the Year, with 32 points, including six 3-pointers. Kayo Goncalves also made six 3-pointers and scored 19 and Locure scored 12, including three treys.

Georgia State had an early 15-6 lead when Goncalves made three consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game 15-15 with 12:54 left in the half. But Georgia State answered with an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead at 23-15 on a bucket by Justin Roberts.

A fast-break basket by Williams gave Georgia State a 33-28 lead, but South Alabama reeled off eight straight and had a 36-33 lead on Locure’s basket with 3:23 remaining in the first half. There were four more lead changes before halftime, which South Alabama led 40-39.

The Panthers came out of the break and outscored South Alabama 9-3 and took a 48-43 on Johnson’s 3-pointer. Georgia State extended the lead to seven after a pair of free throws by Williams and to nine at 56-47 when Williams came up with a steal and a dunk.

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