“He’s a very challenging offensive ballplayer,” Hayes said. “What really showed out today is his competitive nature. It also helps that he has pretty good ballplayers around him, and today was his day. It was his number that was called, and he met the challenge.”
The Panthers (1-1) also got 12 points and five rebounds from Dwon Odom, who came off the bench to shoot 6-for-8, and 10 points from Leslie Nkereuwem. Jay’den Turner had seven rebounds and blocked a shot. Georgia State played 10 players for significant minutes, and all scored.
“The unique thing about this team that I’m starting to realize is that we have a lot of guys,” Hayes said. “We have strength in numbers. Lucas answered the call today, and who knows who it will be the next time out.”
Western Michigan (0-2) was led by Jefferson De La Cruz Monegro and Titus Wright, who each scored 12, and Owen Lobsinger and Seth Hubbard, who each scored 11.
“We’ve still got to answer the challenge a little better than we did today,” Hayes said. “But a win is a win, and I’d much rather learn lessons in a win than a loss. I’m pleased with our overall effort, playing through some adversity. We’ll keep getting better.”
The Panthers never trailed in the first half and used a 6-0 run to build an 11-point lead on short jumper by Turner at 9:05. Western Michigan cut the lead to four points at 5:20, but the Panthers recovered and led 40-29 at halftime.
Western Michigan got as close as seven points on three free throws from Max Burton with 6:57 remaining to make the score 60-53. But GSU quickly regained its double-digit lead, and Western Michigan never got any closer until the waning seconds when the outcome was already secured.
“The team showed a lot of poise and composure and that’s something team get and develop over time,” Hayes said. “Today it offered us an opportunity to show that and we did that. There’s a lot that we can build moving forward, but I’m not surprised.”
The two teams meet again in the second leg of The Sun Belt-MAC Challenge on Feb. 10 in Atlanta.
Georgia State hosts Northern Illinois on Friday in the opening game of the Capitol Challenge at the GSU Convocation Center. The Panthers complete the event with a game Nov. 19 against Little Rock.