Georgia State (10-13, 5-7 Sun Belt) had two players score in double figures – Toneari Lane with 16 and Leslie Nkereuwem with a season-high 15 – but had three players with nine points (Dwon Odom, Edward Nnamoko and Julian Mackey) and Lucas Taylor with eight.
Nnamoko’s effort was especially worthy since the brawny 6-foot-8 sophomore injured his ankle on Saturday and was a game-time decision on playing. His nine points were his most against a Sun Belt team and he had six rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I do not think we win this game without him,” Hayes said. “That’s why you have to be ready when your name is called. … He had a phenomenal physical presence. He said, ‘I’m going to check and see how tough I am.’ And it gave everybody in our program a shot in the arm.”
Louisiana’s Kobe Julien scored 20 points in the first half and reached the 1,000-point career mark but scored only eight in the second half on 1-for-7 shooting. Joe Charles had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“We just challenged our guys,” Hayes said. “(Julien) is a big, physical player and we had our hands full, but our guys were committed. We played team defense, we were connected, we were communicating, we were aggressive, and I thought that made the difference.”
Louisiana (15-9, 8-4) raced to an 18-4 lead as GSU made only one of its first 12 shots. The Panthers got back to within three (27-24) before Julien hit back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch the lead to nine. Louisiana led 39-30 at the break.
Georgia State trailed by as many as 11 in the second half when its comeback started. The Panthers, who shot 50% in the second half, tied it on a 3-pointer by Taylor at 8:04 and took the lead on a trey by Lane the next trip down the floor. It was the first time Louisiana had trailed in the second half of a game since Jan. 10.
Louisiana, which had a seven-game winning streak snapped, could never catch up again because GSU came up clutch at the free throw line. The Panthers were 17-for-22 in the second half and 10-for-13 in the final four minutes.
The Georgia State defense did its job, too. It held Louisiana without a field goal in the final 3:13, outrebounded the Ragin’ Cajuns 20-16 and forced eight turnovers in the second half.
“We only gave up six offensive rebounds in the 35-36 minutes,” Hayes said. “That’s something we’re going to continue to harp on and continue to get better.”
Georgia State returns home on Saturday to host Miami-Ohio in the Sun Belt-MAC Challenge at 2 p.m.