Mercer hands Georgia State its first loss of season

Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier argues after his team was called for a technical foul during the third overtime against Georgia Tech that ended in a 110-110 tie during Tech’s home opener in a NCAA college basketball game that extended into the early morning hour of Thursday, Nov 26, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia State went on to beat Georgia Tech 123-120 in the fourth overtime period.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Georgia State head coach Rob Lanier argues after his team was called for a technical foul during the third overtime against Georgia Tech that ended in a 110-110 tie during Tech’s home opener in a NCAA college basketball game that extended into the early morning hour of Thursday, Nov 26, 2020, in Atlanta. Georgia State went on to beat Georgia Tech 123-120 in the fourth overtime period.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Macon — Georgia State and Mercer both entered Monday’s game with high-profile wins over Georgia Tech. But when the two teams met each other, it was Mercer whose effort most resembled the one responsible for knocking off the Yellow Jackets.

Mercer shot the ball well — inside and outside — and went on to beat Georgia State 86-69 at the Hawkins Arena.

“We anticipated this game would present some adversity for us and how we handle it will give us a platform for whatever growth we can expect,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “This game humbled us and that’s a good thing. What happened last Wednesday (against Tech) gave us a preview of the kind of team we can become, but we’ve also got a long way to go.”

The Bears (3-0) knocked down 42 percent of their 3-pointers (11-for-26) and outscored the Panthers 40-26 in the paint. Mercer used its height advantage to outrebound the Panthers 52-30. But more than anything it was Mercer’s ability to turn aside any idea of a Georgia State comeback with a clutch 3-pointer.

Georgia State was without two of its bigs — Jalen Thomas and Joe Jones — but Lanier refused to use that as an excuse for getting beat on the boards.

“I don’t think them outrebounding us had anything to do with a size difference,” Lanier said. “It had everything to do with the inability to pay attention to detail and continue to sustain a level of effort over the game that is required.”

Georgia State (2-1) never seemed to get in rhythm on offense. The Panthers made only 37 percent from the field and hit just 5 of 18 of their 3-pointers.

Georgia State’s top scorer was Kane Williams, who scored 16 points on 5 of 19 shooting. Justin Roberts and Evan Johnson each scored 10 and Eliel Nsoseme had a team-high six rebounds.

“Our offense contributed a lot to our woes,” Lanier said. “I don’t know if we played a little hungover. They obviously weren’t. We didn’t exhibit much discipline, toughness or competitiveness. I’m very disappointed.”

Mercer rode the shoulders of Felipe Haase, a burly 6-foot-9 junior from Chile by way of the University of South Carolina. He matched his career-high with 17 points — including four 3-pointers — and eight rebounds.

Neftali Alvarez, a sophomore guard from Puerto Rico, had 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Leon Ayers III came off the bench to record 17 points and nine rebounds and Ross Cummings scored 11.

The second half started well for Georgia State. A layup by Williams cut the lead to two points, but Mercer took off on a 12-3 run to take a 56-45 on Shannon Grant’s layup. Georgia State never got closer than seven points the rest of the night and Mercer used a late 9-0 run blow it out.

Mercer now leads the all-time series 46-38. The two will have a rematch Dec. 16 in Atlanta.

“I’ve got a lot of faith and trust in these guys and I know we’ve got a long way to go,” Lanier said. “We say all the time we’re a good group trying to become a good team. In some ways our guys got a little bit ahead of themselves in terms of where we’re at right now. This experience will serve us well.”

In the first half, Georgia State led for much of the first nine minutes before Mercer used a 12-0 run to grab the momentum. The Panthers went nearly three minutes without a point until Roberts hit two free throws and Williams dropped in a layup to cut the lead to 30-26.

Georgia State got as close as two points on Collin Moore’s 3-pointer, but could not keep it going and trailed 42-37 at halftime. The Panthers made only 2 of 9 treys in the half and shot 35.5 percent from the floor and saw Corey Allen and Johnson sit out much of the half with three fouls.