Southern Mississippi has risen to the top of the Sun Belt Conference standings this season because of its experience and veteran leadership, two things that Georgia State’s young and building roster is missing.
The ingredients were apparent Saturday when the Golden Eagles successfully turned away a challenge from Georgia State and came away with a 79-71 win on Senior Day at the Georgia State Convocation Center.
The main culprit was sixth-year senior Felipe Haase, a 6-foot-9 transfer who spent the past two seasons at Mercer. Haase, who turns 25 next month, scored 26 points, dropped in three 3-pointers and was 7-for-7 at the free-throw line – six of them coming in the final minute to keep Georgia State at bay.
“They brought it tonight, and we couldn’t do anything with Haase,” Georgia State coach Jonas Hayes said. “That’s a helluva ballplayer.”
Georgia State (10-14, 3-9 Sun Belt) had its chances against Southern Miss (21-4, 10-2), a team ranked No. 8 in the College Insider’s Mid Major Rankings. After enduring a 16-0 run, GSU frittered away chances that could have made the difference. There were three consecutive empty possessions midway in the second half and two consecutive trips – one with a chance to tie – in the final two minutes that resulted in missed shots from close range.
“We made some costly errors at inopportune times,” Hayes said. “I thought our guys in the second half showed a lot of fight and intestinal fortitude. We just came up a little short. I told our guys in the locker room, I believe in this group, and we should not lose sight of the process. The outcome will take care of itself if you immerse yourself in the process.”
Sophomore Jamaine Mann said, “It was a great game, great atmosphere and great competition. Credit to them, they have a great offense. We’re going to watch film and continue to get better. We know we can hang with a lot of people, and we’ll continue to get better and play hard.”
The team has shown much resilience in the two games since a 103-65 loss at Marshall. Since then the Panthers defeated rival Georgia Southern and took Southern Miss to the wire.
“We made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end, and I believe if we go back to practice and work hard on Monday, we’ll be better,” sophomore Collin Moore said.
Georgia State was led in scoring by Brenden Tucker, who tallied all 17 of his points in the first half. Southern Miss tightened the coverage on Tucker in the second and he took only five shots.
Mann added 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, and Moore had 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and a block. Dwon Odom added 12 points and seven assists, and Ja’Heim Hudson contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.
The five starters each played 30 minutes, with Hayes using only two players off the bench. That is a continuation of the trend that started Thursday when only four reserves played.
Southern Miss, winners of seven consecutive games, also got 12 points and 11 rebounds from DeAndre Pinckney. GSU did a good job slowing Austin Crowley, an Ole Miss transfer who was last week’s Sun Belt player of the week. Crowley scored only eight points on 2-for-11 shooting before fouling out.
Georgia State continues its homestand at 7 p.m. Thursday against Old Dominion and at 2 p.m. Saturday against Marshall. GSU lost 70-58 to Old Dominion on Jan. 19 in Norfolk.
“We’re going to try to comeback on Thursday and get a win,” Moore said. “(Old Dominion) was my first game back (from a season-long thumb injury). We’ll go back to work Monday and see what we can do from there.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com