Allen’s big night puts Georgia State in Sun Belt final

Georgia State's Corey Allen made five 3-pointers in the first half of the semifinal against Appalachian State. Allen scored a season-high 29 points to help the No. 3-seeded Panthers outslug No. 2-seeded Appalachian State 71-66 in a rematch of last year’s championship game at the Pensacola Bay Center. (Jimmie Mitchell)

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Georgia State's Corey Allen made five 3-pointers in the first half of the semifinal against Appalachian State. Allen scored a season-high 29 points to help the No. 3-seeded Panthers outslug No. 2-seeded Appalachian State 71-66 in a rematch of last year’s championship game at the Pensacola Bay Center. (Jimmie Mitchell)

Georgia State coach Rob Lanier has been extolling the growth and all-around development of super senior Corey Allen all season. On Sunday night in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, he showed why.

Allen knocked down six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 29 points, added six rebounds and eight assists to help the No. 3-seeded Panthers outslug No. 2-seeded Appalachian State 71-66 in a rematch of last year’s championship game at the Pensacola Bay Center.

The win, their ninth straight and 11th in 12 games, leaves the Panthers one win from earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.

Georgia State will play rival Louisiana for the championship on Monday at 7 p.m. (TV: ESPN2; Local radio: WRAS-FM 88.5) No. 8-seeded Louisiana (16-14) defeated No. 4-seeded Troy 66-57 in the other semifinal. The Panthers have reached the title game in six of the last eight seasons but haven’t won the tournament since 2019.

“I think the great stat, too, is zero turnovers,” Lanier said. “Corey’s wired to score. He’s a great scorer, man. He always has been, and at this point in his career, I want him to embrace being a more complete player. Last night he didn’t score as much, but he had an effect on the game with his presence, his leadership.

“Tonight the lid came off, and I don’t expect it to go back on, but if it does, he can contribute, and he knows that.”

Allen was 9-for-16 from the field, 6-for-9 on 3-pointers and 5-for-5 at the line. Five of his 3s came in the first half, when he scored 17.

“Just from the beginning of the game I was locked in pretty much,” Allen said.

Georgia State (17-10) also got 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks from Eliel Nsoseme, his second straight double-double, and 11 points and seven rebounds from Jalen Thomas. Kane Williams scored eight points and had six assists.

Appalachian State (19-13) was led by all-conference guard Adrian Delph with 25 points, including five 3-pointers. Michael Almonacy, who torched GSU for six 3s in last year’s conference final, scored 14. Perpetual pest Justin Forrest, a Decatur native, scored three points before leaving the game with an injury with 2:11 left.

“We wrote on the board before the game the word ‘mettle,’ and we put the dictionary definition up there,” Lanier said. “That was something we wanted to develop over the course of the year, a level of mettle based on all the things we’ve experienced the last two years. The last two nights were examples of us having that quality.”

The first half was a back-and-forth affair – with 13 lead changes – until the final four minutes. That’s when Georgia State finished the half on an 11-0 run, taking a 38-29 lead into intermission when Allen hit a long 3-pointer at the horn. The Panthers shot 54% and were 7-for-12 on 3s – five of those from Allen.

The Panthers upped the lead to 13 by opening the second half on a 7-3 run and led by a dozen after a layup by Justin Roberts at 8:43. That’s when App State got back in the game with three straight 3-pointers, and another by Delph at 6:03 cut the margin to 57-55.

But Georgia State never surrendered the lead and pulled away after Allen scored all the points in a 7-0 run to give the Panthers a 66-57 lead with 35 seconds left. Another trey from Delph cut Georgia State’s lead to five, but Williams put it away with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining.

“We have an understanding that there are no blowouts in these games,” Lanier said. “We expect the games to be like they’ve been all season and even more intense now, so we have to embrace that’s the way games are going to go, and I think our guys understand that.”

Georgia State defeated Louisiana twice during the regular season. In the last meeting Feb. 25, the Panthers finished with a 12-4 run and earned a 65-58 win. GSU has won the last four meetings.

“It’s going to be a hard game,” Lanier said. “We expect that, and we’re OK with that. We know we’ve got our hands full.”