Georgia State’s defense rises up in second consecutive win

Georgia State Eliel Nsoseme, flexes his muscles after making a power move against Texas-Arlington.

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Georgia State Eliel Nsoseme, flexes his muscles after making a power move against Texas-Arlington.

Georgia State coach Rob Lanier has earned a reputation for fielding good defensive teams throughout his career. After struggling in that area for much of the season, his Panthers are starting to approach his high expectations.

The continued improvement particularly was evident in the second half Saturday, as Georgia State locked down Louisiana-Monroe 73-62 for its second consecutive win and a sweep of the Panthers’ two-game trip through Louisiana.

“I think there was a time where we felt like maybe we just don’t have defensive players,” Lanier said. “But the reality was I wasn’t doing a good-enough job as a coach, coaching our defense.

“In coaching we know that you get what you emphasize, and if they’re not playing well, then we’re not doing a good job. So, we dug in a little more, and the fact we haven’t shot the ball (well) has forced us to get better. We’ve still got a long way to go.”

It all came together for the Panthers (8-9, 2-4 Sun Belt) midway through the second half. Holding a 53-52 lead, Georgia State ripped off seven consecutive points. After exchanging a couple of baskets, the Panthers scored 11 consecutive points – including three consecutive 3′s -- and stretched their lead to 17, at 73-56, with 2:52 left.

“We’re capable of doing that when everybody’s engaged and locked in and that becomes the priority,” Lanier said. “It takes the pressure off your offense. We’ve got some good offensive players, so we should expect to make some shots and do some things, but it all comes down to defense. We showed some grit and some toughness at a critical stretch in the game, and then the ball started going in.”

The GSU defense did not allow Louisiana-Monroe (10-12, 2-8) to score a basket in the final 6:10. ULM’s Russell Harrison threw in an unguarded 3 at the horn as the Panthers were leaving the court.

“I was yelling at them because we didn’t want them to have that one,” Lanier said.

The finish was similar to Thursday’s win at Louisiana-Lafayette, when Georgia State did not allow a field goal in the final 6:23. Last week the Panthers lost two games in the late stages, a buzzer-beater to Appalachian State and in overtime to Coastal Carolina.

After ULM shot 59% from the field in the first half, the Warhawks shot only 40.9% in the second. When Georgia State was having its big second-half run, ULM could not overcome a stretch of five consecutive turnovers nor numerous one-and-done shots.

Georgia State forced 17 turnovers that resulted in 27 points. Nelson Phillips recorded four steals and long-limbed Jalen Thomas three.

The Panthers continue to feed on the energy brought by senior Eliel Nsoseme, who muscled his way for 13 points – going 6-for-8 primarily with his close-range left hook – 13 rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. Georgia State scored 34 points in the paint.

“The healthier he gets and gets in shape, the more of an effect he can have on the guys around him,” Lanier said of Nsoseme. “He plays with tremendous passion because he focuses on what I think guys feed off of.”

Georgia State’s shooters showed up in the second half, too. Each of Corey Allen’s six baskets were 3-pointers. Kane Williams matched Allen with 18 points; he had a pair of 3′s and scored several times on nimble drives to the basket.

Louisiana-Monroe got 16 points off the bench from Nika Metskhvarishvil, 15 points from freshman Thomas Howell and 12 from Russell Harrison.

Georgia State went on a 10-0 run to start the game and led by as many as six points, but ULM caught up, and neither team was able to take control. There were five ties and nine lead changes in the first half.

Georgia State, which averages 8.1 3-pointers per game, didn’t get their first one until Allen connected at 8:32. He reeled off two more over the next two minutes, the only three the Panthers had in the first half.