After a heartbreaking season, Coach Lanier and the Panthers’ future still shines bright

Georgia State will return most of their players from this past season, including many young stand-outs from this season. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The Georgia State Panthers men’s basketball put together another impressive season, finishing 16-6 and appearing in their third straight conference championship game. Although the Panthers suffered defeat in the championship game against Appalachian State, this season showed how much this team had to adapt.

The regular season began with a statement win in a 3OT thriller against Georgia Tech and ended with a win over South Alabama to clinch the number one seed in the Sun Belt’s East division. The season did not come without its ups and downs, however.

COVID shut down the team’s facility twice in the same month. They had to learn to build chemistry with the risk of their season jeopardizing it.

“The COVID and contact tracing threw things up in the air for a bit in January and for a good chunk of February, but we saw exactly at the end of the year with everybody healthy and everybody in the lineup what this team was capable of,”  Associate Athletic Director Mike Holmes said.

The Panthers clinched the one seed in the East division, which propelled them to a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

The Panthers made another deep run-in but fell short in an upset loss to the fourth-seeded Mountaineers. With the entire team potentially returning next season, the loss leaves few questions for the Panthers’ future.

The team plans to carry the momentum into next season and use the on-court experience many players gained this year to go into next November with more depth and players who know the winning tradition of this basketball program.

“The beauty of it is we continued to find that upward trajectory; we take pride in the fact that we’ve been the best team in the conference since rejoining the league in 2013-2014 when it comes to titles and wins,” Holmes said.

Holmes also recognized that Rob Lanier’s already began a culture change in his two years at Georgia State.

“Coach Lanier gets another year under his belt and is going to be able to keep taking this program to new heights, and he has some pretty lofty goals,” Holmes. “Our guys want to go along with him and see where we can take this program to.”

This Panthers team had the 19th best scoring offense in the nation with a top-50 field goal percentage at about 47%. If this core stays intact with the addition of a few injured players throughout this season, next year’s Panthers could reach unprecedented heights. The Panthers will only add more depth with more veterans who will prove vital in conference play and the postseason.

“I’ll take the two guys that were injured this year and didn’t get to play much, Nelson Phillips and Joe Jones III. I think both of them are going to make a huge impact next year when they come back; both of them have been starters in the lineup before getting hurt this year,”  Holmes said. “I think both are going to be able to come in and really make an impact and give Coach Lanier some more depth.”

These Panthers stayed the course and continued to fight through all the adversity. This season forced them to take basketball and training more seriously than they ever had. Playing through a season like this one will help them get accustomed to the unpredictability of sports.“The resolve that they had all year long, they easily could’ve just thrown in the towel and quit, to be perfectly honest. It’s probably very few teams in the country that…were impacted as much as we were,” Holmes said. “But at the same point…they kept a positive attitude, they knew they would get through it.”