Georgia State comes up short against Belmont’s gunners

Like most coaches, Georgia State’s Jonas Hayes doesn’t believe in moral victories. But there was much to like about the way the Panthers played in Sunday’s 68-66 loss to Belmont University at the GSU Convocation Center.

Belmont is a top mid-major program that has won 20 games and been to the postseason in 17 of the last 20 seasons. The Bruins’ success is predicated on a 3-point offense that is one of the best in the nation. They hit 13 from distance on Sunday – nine more than Georgia State – but the Panthers still had two chances to tie or win the game in the final 30 seconds.

“This is going to be just a step in the process of us becoming the team we’re capable of,” said Hayes, whose team remained without starters Evan Johnson and Brenden Tucker. “I have 1,000% confidence in the guys in our locker room. We’re going to continue to get better.”

Belmont showed its 3-point chops early, scoring its first 15 points from distance. The Bruins were 7-for-13 on 3s and had a 31-29 lead at the break. They wound up with 13 long-range shots and enjoyed a seven-point lead when Ben Sheppard drove the lane for a slam to make it 68-61 with 1:20 remaining.

That’s when Georgia State dug in and showed the tenacity that’s been an early hallmark of the team. Danny Stubbs made a 3-pointer and Dwon Odom made a pair of free throws to cut the margin to two points with 52.5 seconds left.

After Belmont threw the ball away, Georgia State had a chance to tie with 29.5 seconds left, but Odom’s drive was knocked away and Belmont grabbed the loose ball. GSU still had a chance when Ja’Kobi Gillespie missed the front end of a one-and-one with 7.1 seconds remaining. Stubbs grabbed the rebound and fed Odom, whose drive to the basket missed and was still loose when the horn sounded.

“We were just trying to push to get to the rim,” Odom said. “There were about seven seconds left, so you’ve got to know your situation. We practice stuff like that all the time off a missed free throw, and we’re just trying to make the best play.”

It was the right play, Hayes said. “When you’ve got this dude with the ball in his hands, he’s one of the best in the country at creating and getting to the paint before the defense gets set. One hundred times out of 100 in that situation there’s going to be something.”

Odom scored 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting and had eight rebounds, four assists and one steal.

“I think the last minute we just came together as a team,” said Georgia State’s Jamaine Mann, who produced 17 points, eight rebounds and two steals. “That was a really good team. That last minute showed we can really hang with anybody. We know we can play. We play hard.”

Georgia State’s Ja’Heim Hudson added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Stubbs had 11 points and two of the team’s four 3-pointers.

Belmont (4-3) got 24 points from Drew Friberg, who made seven 3s, and 15 from Sheppard, a local product from Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross.

Georgia State (4-3) plays again at home on Thursday against Middle Georgia.

Credit: Cole Carter

Credit: Cole Carter