Big deficit too much for Georgia State to overcome

Georgia State's Lucas Taylor goes high for a one-handed dunk. Taylor scored 18 points in the 84-78 loss to James Madison on Feb. 27, 2024, at the GSU Convocation Center.

Credit: Dennis Hicken

Credit: Dennis Hicken

Georgia State's Lucas Taylor goes high for a one-handed dunk. Taylor scored 18 points in the 84-78 loss to James Madison on Feb. 27, 2024, at the GSU Convocation Center.

The process of rebuilding the basketball program at Georgia State has not been easy. Many times this season coach Jonas Hayes has had to remind himself to be patient, that the process to return to the elite level has been put in place.

That message is especially difficult after the Panthers dug themselves out of a 21-point second-half deficit before falling short in an 84-78 loss to James Madison, the No. 6-ranked mid-major in the country, on Wednesday at the GSU Convocation Center.

“Our guys fought hard and we’re going to keep showing up,” Hayes said. “We’re not feeling great right now. I’m probably one of the most impatient people on planet earth, but there’s a process to this thing and we’re going to see this thing through.”

Georgia State (13-16, 7-10) is in a three-way tie for seventh in the Sun Belt. A win on Friday against Marshall in the final game of the regular season would ensure the Panthers can avoid playing the first day of the conference tournament.

Unlike the first meeting when James Madison scored the first 17 points of the game and scored a first-round knockout, this time Georgia State hung around and had a lead for six minutes in the first half and trailed by only four at the half.

But the Dukes started the second half on a 9-2 spurt and built a 22-point lead with 9:59 left to play.

“You cannot spot that team the second-half start they had,” Hayes said. “You feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. You spot that team three touchdowns and that seems like you’re looking at Mount Fuji.”

Georgia State made it a game via a 16-2 run and three times got to within four points.

“Our intensity definitely starts on defense,” Georgia State’s Lucas Taylor said. “Regardless of what’s going on on the offensive end, our defense is still present. That was the main thing for us.”

But GSU could never catch up. And the outcome was sealed when James Madison’s Terrence Edwards Jr., a local product of Tucker High School, drove the lane with the shot clock nearly on zero and kicked it out to Raekwon Horton, who delivered a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left. That gave JMU a seven-point lead and Georgia State was out of chances.

GSU was led by Taylor with 18 points, including three 3-pointers and a thunderous one-handed baseline dunk in the first half. Jay’Den Turner had 14 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. Three others were in double figures: Dwon Odom with 13, Toneari Lane with 12 and Edward Nnamoko with 11, a season high against Sun Belt competition.

Leslie Nkereuwem scored only four points but became the team’s fourth player to surpass the 1,000-point mark for his career.

James Madison (27-3, 14-30 was led by Edwards with a career-high 30 points and five assists and T.J. Bickerstaff, another Atlanta product, with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Edwards had his own personal cheering section and exchanged postgame hugs and handshakes with friends and family before dashing to the locker room.

“You’ve got to credit James Madison,” Hayes said. “That’s a program and that’s a level of success that we’re trying to emulate. That’s the standard right now and I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that and that falls at my feet, but we’re going to keep putting our best foot forward and we’ll be that program one again.”