Georgia State wins Sun Belt opener, defeats UT Arlington 83-77

Damon Wilson walks back to the bench in Friday's loss against Duke. Photo by Xae | The Signal

Rob Lanier and his Georgia State Panthers secured a victorious start to their conference campaign Thursday evening, defeating the UT Arlington Mavericks 83-77 at the GSU Sports Arena.

“Always good to win,” Lanier said post game. “It’s important to win conference games at home. That said, it was a frustrating game because [UT Arlington] did some good things, to their credit … This win was a byproduct of some grit that we showed as a team. It wasn’t a clean game, but for us to miss 10 free throws and score 83 points in a game where we weren’t really smooth offensively is encouraging.”

In classic Sun Belt fashion, the Mavericks (4-8) made it a physical contest. Damon Wilson found his rhythm in the second half, however, and the Panthers improved to 7-3 on the season. Lanier’s men have yet to lose on their home court and currently boast a perfect 4-0 record. The coach’s halftime speech clearly worked wonders, as the team kicked it into gear out of the break, having trailed 35-33 after an error filled first 20 minutes.

“By the end of the half, [UT Arlington] really had the momentum even though we cut it to two,” Lanier said. “You could tell they had a little more mojo going into [the break].”

Wilson lead the way in scoring, as the senior dropped as cool 22 points, tying his career-high. Junior guard Kane Williams pitched in 17 points of his own, albeit on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. Off the bench, Nelson Phillips and Josh Linder each contributed solid minutes. Linder secured a pair of clutch offensive rebounds down the stretch and finished with 4 points and 4 boards. Phillips added 9 points in 26 minutes. The offensive rebounding was a positive for Lanier.

“Josh had a big time rebound and put back,” Lanier said. “And [Williams] had a couple around the paint and put them in. Those plays were magnified at the end.”

Big man Jalen Thomas had by far his best game in a Panthers uniform, setting a new career-high. The freshman scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots for good measure.

For the Mavericks, Brian Warren lead the way with 19 points, but needed 22 shots to hit that mark. The free-shooting guard did everything in his power to keep his team in the contest, but ultimately fell just short.

The Panthers did lose a key player through injury, though. Corey Allen’s evening took a worrying turn in the first half. The guard hit the floor hard after driving to the hoop and returned only momentarily. He sat out the second half, although it seemed to be more of a precaution than anything else.

Injury aside, Lanier spoke about a powerful moment he had with Allen during the first half.

“We had a great thing happen in the game. [Phillips] hit two 3s while he was out there and he was playing pretty hard. I told Corey to go in for him,” Lanier said. “Corey is a scorer, he wants to be out there and he said ‘no, coach, leave him in’ … I was proud in that moment and I think it says a lot about Corey and his growth now.”

But beyond the scoresheet, Thursday night’s contest saw Chris Clerkley take the floor as a college graduate. The moment meant a lot to not only Clerkley, but Lanier as well.

“I’m really, really proud of him,” Lanier said. “He’s a great kid, a great ambassador and representative of Georgia State University … I want to be around guys like [Clerkley]. I wish I had four years with [him].”