2018 State v. Southern Preview: Edition One

Georgia State Panthers face off Little Rock Trojans on Thursday, Jan. 4. Photo by Julian Pineda | The Signal

Georgia State (13-6, 4-2) defeated Coastal Carolina (7-12, 1-5) 72-58 Saturday in their sixth Sun Belt contest. Behind 14 three-pointers, Georgia State was able to pick up their fourth consecutive victory. They now average 8.9 three pointers per game.

“What a huge win today and pair of wins on the road for us this weekend,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “As proud as I am of the defense we played today, I was equally happy with our offense. We spread the ball around well, and for the most part, took smart shots all game.”

Georgia State Athletics are marketing the game as a ‘White-Out’, encouraging fans to dress in white. This is one of two huge conference games for the Panthers within the next week. On Jan. 25 they face UT Arlington who is off to slow start in comparison to their recent history.

Malik Benlevi logged a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Coastal. In just 22 minutes, Devin Mitchell went 4-7 from three leading him to 15 points, a team-high. D’Marcus Simonds’ 13 points extended his streak of games in double-digits to 36 games. Down low, Jordan Sessions snatched nine boards and dropped 11 points.

Hunter’s team found early success from behind the arc, hitting nine of 17 first half three point attempts. Six different Panthers made three pointers in the game.

Coastal took the lead during a near five-minute Georgia State scoring drought in the first. Williams ended the drought with a three. He and Benlevi each knocked down another three in the final two minutes. Georgia State never relinquished the lead.

Other than the explosion from behind the arc, Hunter was quite disappointed in the first half performance. He said it may have been the worst half of the whole season. He cited his team’s poor defense, ball movement and defensive rebounding.

The Panthers blew the roof off the Chanticleers to begin the second half. They built a 52-36 lead in less than six minutes, setting the tone for the rest of the half.

Their next opponent, Georgia Southern (14-5, 5-1), is in the midst of a four-game winning streak as well. The Eagles are coming off a 60-59 nail-biting win over Appalachian State. Tookie Brown led a 12-point comeback, scoring 21 points and the final four of the game.

Georgia State can’t afford to lack focus on defense against the Eagles. Georgia Southern has a potent offense which averages 77 points per game. The attention to detail on the glass will need to be there as well.

Southern big man Montae Glenn snatches nearly as many offensive boards (77) as defensive (79), a quite unusual statistic. His 8.7 boards per game are part of the +7.1 team rebounding advantage for the Eagles.

Simonds and Brown will be the most anticipated players to watch for in the first 2018 contest between the two universities. Brown shoots 55.1% from the field, allowing him to score 18.6 point per game and making him fifth in the Sun Belt. However, Simonds is the conference’s leading scorer at 20.8 points per game. Their quick hands land both stars in the top-three in steals.

As both teams are in great places defensively in conference play, scoring may be a challenging task. The Eagles are holding conference opponents to 39. 7 percent from the field. During their winning streak, Georgia State opponents are averaging an absurd 14.8 turnovers per game on sub-40 percent shooting as well.

Last season’s two games were split– the home team winning each matchup. Georgia State fell 88-65 in Statesboro to open the conference slate. D’Marcus Simonds did not suit up in the first contest, but scored 21 points in a 72-67 Georgia State win in the Sun Belt regular season finale.

Since Georgia Southern joined the Sun Belt in 2014, neither team has won on the opponent’s home floor. But Georgia State leads the series thanks to its 38-36 win over Southern in the 2015 Sun Belt Basketball Championship, advancing them to the NCAA tournament.

Tipoff is today at 2:00 p.m. inside the GSU Sports Arena. Tune in to WatchESPN to view the battle between top-four teams in the Sun Belt.