Georgia State hangs on to beat South Alabama

Georgia State's Kane Williams is among the school's all-time leaders in points and free-throw shooting.

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Georgia State's Kane Williams is among the school's all-time leaders in points and free-throw shooting.

Despite the midweek hiccup, Georgia State appears again to be trending in the right direction.

The Panthers won for the third time in four games Saturday, taking down talented South Alabama 69-62 at the GSU Sports Arena.

The offense showed more optimistic signs, with four players scoring in double figures, and the defense took another positive step by holding the Sun Belt’s second-highest scoring team to almost 12 points below its season average.

“I think we continued to improve offensively,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “Defensively, I thought we were good.”

Georgia State (9-10, 3-5 Sun Belt) got 17 points from Kane Williams, who was 11-for-11 from the free-throw line, 11 points and five rebounds from Jalen Thomas, and 10 points each from Eliel Nsoseme and Justin Roberts. Nsoseme secured nine rebounds.

South Alabama (15-8, 5-5) made only 40.4% from the floor, and was just 4-for-20 on 3′s. The game produced a far better result for the Panthers than Thursday, when they lost on their homecourt, 67-63 to Troy.

“When you struggle as a team, the grind of the season is hard to enjoy – the film sessions, the practices, the weight training, the travel,” Lanier said. “All that stuff feels better when you win. So you’ve got to give a team credit that when they go through those struggles, they continue to grind and work and find ways to have a game like this.”

Georgia State’s resurgence is timely, as the conference standings remain wide open. Eleven of the league’s 12 teams are separated by two losses with three weeks left in the regular season.

“I’m not worried about the standings at this point,” Lanier said. “All I’m concerned about is my team improving and getting to a point where we play our best basketball going into the tournament. If we’re not playing well, it doesn’t matter, but if we’re playing our best basketball, then it doesn’t matter who we play.”

The game appeared to be in the bank when Georgia State went up 56-33 with 12:24 left, but South Alabama’s Jay Jay Chandler felt otherwise. He scored 11 points during a 13-1 run, and the Jaguars cut the margin to 57-46 at 8:54. South Alabama eventually got as close as four points on a Kayo Goncalves 3-pointer with 29.8 seconds, but Georgia State made four consecutive at the line to close the game.

“They did a good job switching to zone, and it kind of broke the rhythm of the game,” Lanier said. “It got into their heads a little bit. The zone picked up some momentum for them and created some runouts, and sometimes you see teams start playing not to lose, and there was an element of that, but they found away to get it done and made some free throws.”

Chandler, a 6-foot-4 grad transfer from Texas A&M, single-handedly kept South Alabama’s hopes alive. He scored 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. Goncalves, who scored 10, was the only other Jag in double figures.

“We were having trouble guarding in transition, and Chandler’s just a load coming downhill at full speed,” Lanier said. “He was a one-man fast break.”

The Panthers avenged a 74-65 loss to the Jaguars in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 13. Georgia State has won eight of the past 10 meetings between the teams.

Georgia State took command early, grabbing an early lead at 9-2 and stretching it to 18-4 on Evan Moore’s 3-pointer at 12:59. South Alabama kept flailing and cut the lead to eight, only to have Corey Allen score seven points during a 9-3 run. The Panthers scored the final six points of the half, all of them by Williams, who made a make-a-wish 3-pointer at the horn to give GSU a 42-24 advantage, its biggest lead of the game.

It was one of Georgia State’s better first halves of the season. The Panthers shot 50% from the field and outrebounded South Alabama 20-10.

The Panthers are on the road for their next two games, at Coastal Carolina on Thursday and conference-leading Appalachian State on Saturday.