Red-hot Georgia State to play final game at GSU Sports Arena

Georgia State coach Rob Lanier's basketball team will play its final game in the venerable GSU Sports Arena on Friday. The team is scheduled to move into a new arena next season.

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Georgia State coach Rob Lanier's basketball team will play its final game in the venerable GSU Sports Arena on Friday. The team is scheduled to move into a new arena next season.

The Georgia State basketball team will play its final game in the venerable GSU Sports Arena on Friday. This team’s dramatic second-half surge is a fitting way to close the doors on the site of many of the program’s dramatic moments.

The Panthers conclude the season by hosting Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. before what is expected to be a capacity crowd. GSU has won six consecutive and eight of its past nine, rising from last place to fourth place in the Sun Belt Conference.

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Georgia State could finish as the third seed in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Panthers would pull into a tie for third if they beat the Ragin’ Cajuns on Friday and Troy loses to conference-leading Texas State. GSU would win the tiebreaker with a higher winning percentage in conference play.

“It’s a long season, and we say to the guys, it’s a long game. You could be playing poorly five minutes into the game, things can look terrible, and you can find your way out of it,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “We feel that way about the season. We’ve shown some resilience.

“I don’t know how many we’ve won in a row, but we can’t allow this stretch we’re in to make us soft. We’ve got to be hungry, and we should have that frame of reference to motivate us instead of us getting comfortable.”

Louisiana-Lafayette definitely will be hungry. Not only are the Ragin’ Cajuns one of GSU’s more competitive foes – four of the past six games have been determined by four or fewer points – the rivalry is exceeded in ferocity only by in-state rival Georgia Southern. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won three consecutive and are coming off an 82-69 win over Georgia Southern in Statesboro.

“I don't know how many we've won in a row, but we can't allow this stretch we're in to make us soft. We've got to be hungry, and we should have that frame of reference to motivate us instead of us getting comfortable."

- Georgia State coach Rob Lanier

“It’s a quick turnaround,” Lanier said. “The good thing is, they’re a familiar opponent. The bad thing is, they’re really good, athletic and talented. They present some totally different challenges from what we’ve had to deal with. We’ll have our hands full.”

Georgia State won the first meeting 68-64 to begin its current hot streak.

Georgia State overcame plenty of hurdles to get to this point. The Panthers dealt with major COVID-19 issues and were without center Eliel Nsoseme until Jan. 6. That’s when the team started to come together, and a four-game winning streak on the road gave the team the momentum boost it needed. Since then, the Panthers have resembled the team that was picked by conference coaches as the overwhelming preseason favorite.

“We’ve had some adversity during the year, and it’s a testament to these guys’ ability to stick together and to trust us,” Lanier said. “I think the winning streak is a reflection that the goals we set for ourselves are still in front of us. We have a belief that we can achieve them.”

The Sports Arena opened in 1973 and has hosted everything from the badminton competition in the 1996 Summer Olympics to a couple of conference tournaments. It’s where Lefty Driesell brought the team into the national spotlight – earning the right to have the court named in his honor – and where Ron Hunter elevated the program even further. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Georgia State is 121-29 at home.

Georgia State will move into the new $80 million Convocation Center for the 2022-23 season. The arena will seat 7,500 for basketball – more than twice the capacity of the existing arena.