Georgia State returned to its defensive roots Thursday and that allowed the Panthers to end their five-game losing streak and hand coach Rob Lanier his 100th career victory.
The Panthers did not permit a field goal in the final 6:23 and earned a 68-64 over Louisiana-Lafayette at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La. It was Georgia State’s first win against Sun Belt Conference competition and reversed a trend of late-game failures.
“For the majority of the year we’ve been the worst defensively that we’ve been since I’ve been here and probably one of the worst defensive teams in the league on the whole,” Lanier said. “But over the last couple of weeks our defense has improved and continues to improve.
“It goes back to these guys making a commitment to doing what it takes to win. I think what (happened Thursday) is a reflection of that commitment that these guys are making, to try to get better.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
The defense was especially evident in the final minute. After Jalen Thomas scored to give Georgia State a 64-63 lead, Justin Roberts rebounded a Louisiana-Lafayette miss and scored on a short jumper for a three-point lead. Roberts then came up with a steal and made two game-clinching free throws with 6.9 seconds left. Thomas finished with 12 points, six assists and three steals.
“Justin was engaged from the outset,” Lanier said. “When Justin came out of the starting lineup earlier, he didn’t handle it well and we talked about that. He’s been a man about that competition and I appreciate him tonight. He was really engaged and he was a floor leader.”
Thomas didn’t start for the first time all season but handled the demotion well. His short jump shot was falling – Thomas was 7-for-11 from the field – and he scored 14 points with four rebounds and one blocked shot.
“His response from a performance standpoint was terrific,” Lanier said. “It was a real sign of maturity and selfishness. So, it’s not a surprise that he played well in the game because he was really more concerned about what was best for the team. I’m proud of him more for that than the performance, but we needed the performance.”
Georgia State (7-9, 1-4 Sun Belt) also got 14 points from Kane Williams, 11 points from Corey Allen and 10 rebounds and four blocks from Eliel Nsoseme.
Louisiana-Lafayette (9-9, 4-4) was led by freshman Kentrell Garnett, who made four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 17 points. Jordan Brown came back from a shoulder injury to score 12. The Ragin’ Cajuns made a season-high 12 3-pointers, with seven different players scoring from distance.
Lanier is 42-28 in three seasons at Georgia State.
He was head coach at Siena from 2001-05, then spent time as an assistant at Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia before getting another opportunity to lead a program.
“You know, it was 14 years from the time I left Siena that I couldn’t even get a phone interview,” Lanier said. “But Georgia State believed in me and gave me this opportunity when no one else even considered me a viable candidate. So it means that I’ve been given a great opportunity that I approach with great gratitude and that particular accomplishment is a by-product of the opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m thankful for that.”
Georgia State completes its road trip Saturday with a visit to Louisiana-Monroe.
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