Thomas powers Georgia State to third consecutive win

Georgia State coach Rob Lanier. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia State coach Rob Lanier. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The offensive emergence of forward Jalen Thomas this weekend gives Georgia State a pretty solid inside combination going into the stretch run leading to the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

A 6-foot-10 sophomore from Detroit, Thomas broke his career high for points for the second consecutive night and helped the balanced Panthers beat Troy 65-53 at the GSU Sports Arena, sweeping the two-game series.

After scoring 15 on Friday, Thomas dropped in 16 on Saturday as Georgia State extended its winning streak to three games. Thomas was 6-for-7 from the floor, 4-for-4 at the line and had five rebounds. The only miss was a long 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock with 33 seconds left and the outcome secure.

“When he’s got space, he’s a good shooter,” coach Rob Lanier said. “He’s also got great feet, quick hands and he’s got some fight in him. He’s got to play harder for longer stretches and we’re starting to see that.”

When long-limbed Thomas and the muscular 6-foot-9 Eliel Nsoseme are on the court at the same time, the Panthers have one of the most imposing inside duos in the Sun Belt. Nsoseme had only five points and six rebounds Saturday, but averages a double-double.

“It gives us some versatility and helps our depth,” Lanier said. “Jalen is a good offensive player, and it’s always great when you’ve got five guys on the floor that are a threat. In Eliel and Jalen we have two guys who can contribute on offense and we’ve got quality guard play. We’ve got a chance to be a complete offensive team. We’re not there yet, but we’ve got a chance.”

Georgia State (11-5, 5-4 Sun Belt) also got 16 points from Corey Allen, 13 points and nine assists from Justin Roberts and 12 points from Kane Williams.

Troy (10-14, 4-10) lost its fifth consecutive game. The Trojans were led by Kam Woods with 15 points and Nick Stampley with 13.

Georgia State came out firing from the outside and took a quick 11-0 lead. Troy didn’t score until the 15:04 mark, but had drawn to within six points when Roberts came up with a breakaway steal and drew a foul. He converted the three-point play and Georgia State had regained its nine-point lead.

The Panthers led by as many as 15 on a Roberts 3-point shot -- one of seven by Georgia State in the first half -- with 1:47 left and had a 33-21 advantage at halftime.

The 21 points is the fewest allowed in a half by Georgia State this season. The Panthers forced 15 first-half turnovers and limited the Trojans to 32 percent from the floor and 1-for-9 on 3-pointers. The margin could have been worse had Georgia State not committed nine turnovers of its own.

Georgia State extended its 33-21 halftime lead to 17 points on a Thomas basket with 15:20 left. That’s when Troy caught fire and went on a 12-1 run to cut the lead to 44-38 on a 3-pointer by Zay Williams with 12:55 remaining.

“It looked like we could take control, but they got the game down to six,” Lanier said. “It was good for our team. Those tense moments … the rest of the season is going to be filled with those. We haven’t been great in those moments, the tense, competitive situations with the game in the balance. We’re growing, and tonight provided more of that for us, although we’re rather have gotten separation.”

The Panthers answered on a 3-pointer by Williams and rode the inside punch of Nsoseme and a bucket by Williams to push the lead back to 14 points. Georgia State then began to work its possessions deeper in the clock and Troy never got closer than nine.

“The fact is we stuck together and we’re starting to see more leadership,” Lanier said. “Eliel and Corey and Kane … there’s some stability developing inside our group.”

Georgia State will play its final home game Tuesday against Appalachian State. The Panthers finish the season next weekend at South Alabama, the leaders in the Eastern Conference.

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