Georgia State to open NCAAs against No. 1 Gonzaga

The Georgia State basketball players stand and cheer when it is announced they will play No. 1 Gonzaga in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

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The Georgia State basketball players stand and cheer when it is announced they will play No. 1 Gonzaga in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

It didn’t take long for Georgia State to learn its first-round opponent.

Seconds after No. 1-ranked Gonzaga was announced as the top overall seed for the NCAA men’s tournament, Georgia State’s name was announced as the opponent. It killed the drama among the 100-plus people who gathered at the University Club at Center Parc Stadium, but caused the players to jump to their feet and applaud the selection.

Georgia State will play the Zags in the opening round of the Western Region in Portland on Thursday. The time has not been determined.

“I was excited to see our name after all the hard work and dedication that we put into the season,” senior guard Justin Roberts said. “I wanted to wait a little bit for the anticipation, but it didn’t happen like that.”

Reserve Collin Moore said, “I kind of knew we were going to be the last seed. I told Corey (Allen), ‘Watch, they’re going to put us first,’ and then the show, that’s what happened.”

But coach Rob Lanier was surprised the Panthers drew a No. 16 seed.

“It’s great,” Lanier said. “I didn’t expect to be a 16 seed coming out of the Sun Belt, but what it is, is it’s a great opportunity.”

The Panthers have been one of the hottest teams in the country over the last six weeks, winning 10 straight, including the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Pensacola, Fla. The winning streak is the third longest in program history, matching the one from 2018.

Gonzaga (26-3) defeated No. 17 St. Mary’s last week to win its eighth West Coast Conference tournament title in nine years. Gonzaga avenged a loss to St. Mary’s in the final game of the regular season.

“They’re really, really good,” Lanier said. “(Mark Few) is one of the top coaches in the game. They’ve got great players, great tradition and a great fan base. They’re a major program in a mid-major conference. So the association the next several days is a good opportunity for us.”

Roberts said, “I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’m used to playing against guys like that. We’re not scared or anything, just looking forward to the opportunity.”

Georgia State will make its sixth trip to the NCAAs, the first in three seasons under Lanier. The Panthers advanced in 1991 under Bob Reinhardt, in 2001 under Lefty Driesell and in 2018 and 2019 under Ron Hunter.

The last time Georgia State was a No. 16 seed was its first appearance in 1991. The team took MARTA to the Omni and lost 117-76 to Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas team.