Duo returns from injuries to spark Georgia State victory

Brenden Tucker and Evan Johnson made impactful returns to the Georgia State lineup on Thursday and gave an indication of what may be around the corner now that the team is healthy again.

Tucker scored a season-high 17 and Johnson scored 14 and helped lead the Panthers to a 79-53 win over Middle Georgia State at the GSU Convocation Center. Although they came off the bench, their return restored Georgia State’s anticipated starting lineup.

“It felt good to have both Evan and Brenden back,” Georgia State coach Jonas Hayes said. “It feels good to have a full complement of players. We’ve still got to get our chemistry together. I think this team is committed to playing the right way. They enjoy playing with one another, they enjoy the camaraderie, so that’s all a work in progress.”

Tucker, out with a groin strain, and Johnson, absent because of an ankle sprain, came off the bench and were instrumental in helping GSU break out of an early cold snap and take control of the game against the NAIA Knights midway in the first half.

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Tucker scored nine points during a 15-0 run that took the Panthers from a four-point deficit to an 11-point lead. His slam to complete a fast break at 6:27 upped the lead to 25-14 and Middle Georgia never got closer than six points.

Tucker, the transfer from the College of Charleston, had 13 points and Johnson scored eight in the first half, which Georgia State led 38-25. Johnson had two 3-pointers in the first half and finished with four, which equaled the team’s total from Sunday’s loss to Belmont.

“I tried not to hold them back too much because I want them to play free and easy,” Hayes said. “Just instinctual basketball.”

Georgia State’s leading scorer was Jamaine Mann, who had 19 points – 15 in the second half -- and 10 rebounds. Danny Stubbs scored 10 and Ja’Heim Hudson added nine points and 13 rebounds for the Panthers (5-3).

“Just playing through the system, the coaches designing plays for me,” Mann said. “I’m getting good results playing within the system. I’m playing with confidence. That’s what it is.”

Stubbs said, “It’s just constant growth. We’re slowly coming together. We’ve just got to keep working.”

Middle Georgia (6-4) was led by Druid Hills High graduate Maliek Sadler with 12 points and D.J. Hutchins with 10 points.

Once the Panthers established the 20-plus point lead and had control of the game, Hayes was able to get more minutes for others. Dwon Odom, for example, was only asked to play 19 minutes and Hudson only played 18.

“I’m just looking for maturity,” Hayes said. “That was a moment we can grow in. So you don’t want to mix and match, not this group just yet. That’s takes a different level of maturity, a different level of attention to detail, a different level of still playing the right way.”

Georgia State plays its first road game of the season on Sunday against Northeastern in Boston.