Georgia State’s offense sputters in conference opener

James Madison came into the GSU Convocation Center as the No. 1 scoring team in the country. But in the end it was the Dukes’ defense that determined the outcome of Thursday’s game against Georgia State.

Georgia State struggled against James Madison’s aggressive man-to-man defense and dropped a 63-47 decision in the Sun Belt Conference opener.

“They were quicker to the loose balls, all those extra hustle plays they made diving for a loose ball, they got deflection after deflection after deflection,” Georgia State coach Jonas Hayes said. “They pushed us off our spots offensively. That’s a hell of a team.”

The Panthers trailed 26-21 at halftime and crashed early in the second half. The Panthers didn’t score until a driving basket by Dwon Odom at 12:50. By that time James Madison had a 16-point lead and never trailed by fewer than 11 points the rest of the game.

Offensively they were more aggressive,” Hayes said. “They took us out of our rhythm and that’s what you get. ... They took us out of every single thing that we wanted to do.”

Odom said, “It did get to us a little bit today. That’s what good teams do and they were very physical. They just outplayed us but this game is a lesson learned, so whoever we’ve got next, we know what we have to do.”

Georgia State’s defense was solid against the Dukes, who entered the game averaging 93.2 points. The Panthers forced 13 turnovers and limited JMU to 34.6% from the floor but were not able to overcome 21 turnovers on their own end.

“I don’t think our defense was that bad,” Hayes said. “When you have a team that comes in averaging as many points as they did, I thought we held our own.”

Georgia State (7-6, 0-1 Sun Belt) was led by Odom with 17 points and Evan Johnson with nine.

James Madison (10-4, 1-0) was led by Tyree Ihernacho with 15 points, Noah Friedel with 13 and Takai Molson with 12 points and seven rebounds. The Dukes were without leading scorer Valo Morse (13.2 points), who remained home with a non-COVID illness.

The first half was dominated by each team’s aggressive man-to-man defense. James Madison scored nine points off 13 turnovers and Georgia State scored eight off 10 turnovers. GSU was smacked early and trailed 9-2 before tying the game on Kaleb Scott’s free throw at 9:07. Freidel made a 3-pointer to give James Madison a five-point lead at halftime.

The situation got a little testy early in the second half. Georgia State freshman Edward Nnamoko was given a technical for retaliating for a shove by JMU’s Terrence Edwards, who was also T’d up.

Less than a minute later at 17:32, GSU’s Ja’Heim Hudson got a technical for making a comment after he was called for a foul. Hudson was visibly upset as he had to leave the game with four fouls. By the time all the free throw-shooting was finished James Madison’s lead had grown to nine points.

“We all lost it, myself included,” Hayes said. “I take the blame for that one. I’m the leader of the program and I set the tone and that was a result.”

Georgia State wasn’t quite finished. The Panthers cut the lead to 11 on a 3-pointer by Johnson with 7:59 left but failed to get any closer following two turnovers and four missed shots.

“We were trying to get it into single digits,” Odom said. “I feel like we always have a lot of fight and we will never give up. We just couldn’t get it there, but you know, it all starts from early in the second half. We’ve got to be better – everybody. We know what we have to do.”

Georgia State plays again at home at 2 p.m. on Saturday against South Alabama.