Georgia State’s inside presence lacking in loss to Mercer

Georgia State's Nelson Phillips scores on a slam dunk in the Panthers' loss to Mercer in Macon on Dec. 4, 2021. Phillips scored 19 points in the 83-77 loss. (Daniel Wilson photo/Courtesy of Georgia State Athletics)

Credit: Daniel Wilson (Wilson Action Photo)

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Georgia State's Nelson Phillips scores on a slam dunk in the Panthers' loss to Mercer in Macon on Dec. 4, 2021. Phillips scored 19 points in the 83-77 loss. (Daniel Wilson photo/Courtesy of Georgia State Athletics)

Credit: Daniel Wilson (Wilson Action Photo)

Credit: Daniel Wilson (Wilson Action Photo)

MACON – The old gang was back on the floor for Georgia State after last week’s COVID-19 kerfuffle that limited the team to eight players against Rhode Island and caused cancellation of the midweek game against Tennessee State.

The only players missing were 6-foot-7 freshman power forward Ja’Heim Hudson, still out with the virus, and 6-8 senior forward Eliel Nsoseme, who has yet to play this season while rehabbing a knee injury. The lack of their presence definitely was a factor.

With few inside options to counter Mercer’s big guys, Georgia State lost an 83-77 decision to the Bears on Saturday at Hawkins Arena.

“They made a concerted effort to go inside against us,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “We didn’t have much resistance in the paint, and we didn’t have much of a presence in the paint ourselves. Some of that is a byproduct of the makeup of our team right now, but it’s not a reason for the game to go the way it did.

“Bottom line is you’ve got to be a little tougher. We’ve got to fight harder, and we have to continue to develop into a team that in adverse situations, we can have the resolve to execute, to defend, to get stops.”

Mercer scored 36 points in the paint – including nine early in the second half from 280-pound Shannon Grant, who did not score in the first half. Georgia State scored 22 in the paint. The Bears had 15 second-chance points.

The score was tied 55-55 midway in the second half before Mercer used its size advantage and a pair of 3-pointers by James Glisson to go on a momentum-altering 14-2 run. Georgia State cut the lead to 76-72 on a rare 3-pointer by Jalen Thomas, but never got closer than four points. Mercer put the game away at the line when Felipe Haase made a pair of free throws and Neftali Alvarez made three of four.

Georgia State (4-3) had four players in double figures, led by Nelson Phillips, who grew up in nearby Warner Robins, with 19 points and five rebounds. Justin Roberts and Cane Williams each scored 14, and Corey Allen scored 13. Georgia State was 14-for-30 on its 3s.

A bright spot for Georgia State was the contributions of Jamall Clyce, a sturdy 6-6 freshman from Pebblebrook High. Clyce played 15 minutes and provided some inside relief.

“I was proud of Jamall coming in there and showing some fight,” Lanier said. “But credit to them. They did a helluva job on their home court. We had our chances and didn’t take advantage of them.”

Allen warmed up and began the game wearing a clear mask to protect his face; the senior suffered a nasal fracture and concussion against Richmond and was unable to play in the Legends Classic at High Point. But upon realizing how the mask affected his shooting, Allen ditched the mask and immediately made two long-range 3-pointers.

Mercer (5-4) got 25 points from Glisson, who was 10-for-14 from the floor, and Jalen Johnson with 19 points and nine rebounds. Haase scored 13.

Georgia State trailed by as many as seven points in the first half, but finally took the lead on a 3-pointer by Phillips, who immediately added a steal and dunk to give GSU a 38-33 advantage. The Panthers led 38-36 at halftime.

The Panthers committed only nine turnovers, but Lanier was concerned about the source of those mistakes.

“Three or four of those were really critical down the stretch,” Lanier said. “And some of those turnovers were by upperclassmen. We’ve got some veteran players that really have to do a better job.”

Mercer now leads the all-time series 47-39.

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