Men go 2-0, women’s streak snapped

Malik Benlevi helped lead Georgia State’s men’s basketball team to a win in an away game against South Alabama on Feb. 15. Submitted by Georgia State Athletics

For the second time in two weeks, the Georgia State men’s basketball team (18-8, 9-4) found itself in a double-digit hole. However, this time was different as the Panthers were able to overcome an 18-point deficit and grab a 90-81 win over South Alabama (12-14, 5-8) on Friday.

Men’s: South Alabama, W, 90-81

In the Panthers’ last loss against Louisiana, seniors Jeff Thomas and Malik Benlevi didn’t play particularly well, scoring four and three points respectively.

Benlevi, the heart and soul of the team, rebounded in a big way leading the comeback, finishing the game with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The Savannah native was 5-of-7 on 3-pointers after scoring four points in each of the previous two games.

Thomas added 21 points off the bench. Head coach Ron Hunter said after the game that having him run with the second unit gives the team some added punch, and in a situation like Friday when they trailed big, someone needed to provide a spark.

In the first half, Georgia State allowed South Alabama to shoot 12-of-19 from behind the arc, while only going 5-of-15 themselves. But in the second half, the Panthers tightened up on the defensive end and made it tough on the Jaguars, who made only two more 3-point baskets.

Georgia State sped things up with a press defense and caused problems for South Alabama on the offensive end. Hunter gave a lot of credit to redshirt junior Damon Wilson for his defensive performance.

“I’m really proud of one guy, in particular, he may give us a chance to win a championship, and he didn’t score one point in the game, and that’s Damon Wilson,” Hunter said. “I thought Damon in the second half, his energy came in and got things going, and really changed the dynamic of this ball game by himself. I’ve never seen someone who dominated a game like he did and did not score one point.”

Wilson has struggled to find his way with the team so far this season, only averaging 4.4 points per game, but maybe this game will get things going for him. Although he didn’t score, the team will need his defensive intensity during the backstretch of the season.

Men’s: Troy, W, 77-63

On Wednesday, the Panthers ended their two-game losing streak with a 77-63 win over Troy, avenging the loss earlier in the season, when Trojans guard Jordan Varnado hit a last-second 3-pointer.

In the win, junior D’marcus Simonds scored 27 points and became the school’s all-time leader in field goals made with 589. The record was previously set in 1986 by Chavelo Holmes.

Defense also won that game for the Panthers; they caused the Trojans to turn the ball over 19 times and had 10 steals in the contest.

Georgia State has five games left until the Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins, with three of them on the road including a Mar. 9 showdown with Georgia Southern in Statesboro.

The Panthers have not won in Statesboro since Hunter took over before the 2011-12 season.

Although the tournament doesn’t begin until next month, the Panthers are already treating it that way.

“I told the guys earlier in the week that right now we are in the conference tournament, these aren’t regular season games for Georgia State these are conference tournament games,” Hunter said. “If we want the make the NCAA Tournament, if we want to win a championship we have to treat these are tournament games.”

Georgia State currently sits in a second place in the Sun Belt standings. The first and second place teams get a double-bye into the semifinals rounds, so the Panthers are pushing for one of these two spots.

Women’s: South Alabama, L, 62-59

The Georgia State women’s basketball team (14-10, 8-5) had its four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday after a 62-59 loss to South Alabama (19-5, 8-5) on the road. The Panthers led by nine heading into halftime, but collapsed in the second half due to more pressure from the Jaguars.

Georgia State didn’t play particularly well early, but their defense held South Alabama to 9-of-24 shooting and 1-of-7 from deep in the first half.

The Panthers shot poorly in the first half, going 11-of-38 and 2-of-11 from 3-pointers. The difference, however, was the defensive effort. They were able to force 23 South Alabama turnovers and plenty of bad shots, but the majority came in the first half.

South Alabama held a 61-59 advantage with under 30 seconds to go. Both Jada Lewis and Walnatia Wright missed short field goal attempts, then after two missed South Alabama free throws Lewis had another chance to tie or win the game, but missed. That was the last good look the Panthers would get.

“Road wins are always tough to come by,” head coach Gene Hill said. “We put ourselves in a position to win in the end and gave just came up a bit short. Obviously we’re happy being near the top of the standings, but we feel like at the end of the day this is one we let go. We have to rebound and come ready to play Thursday against Appalachian State.”

Allison Johnson led the team with 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, but she fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Lewis and Wright added 11 and 12 points respectively.

Women’s: Troy, W, 85-70

Earlier in the week, Georgia State blew past Troy 85-70. The Panthers completely dominated the game, keeping a double-digit lead for most of the contest. They led for over 37 minutes in the game. Troy shot poorly from the field and on 3-pointers, with 33 percent and 26 percent respectively. Georgia State, by contrast, shot 46 percent from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers and forced 25 turnovers.

The Panthers are tied for fourth in the conference with the Jaguars, but South Alabama holds the tiebreaker. However, with wins over Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina next week combined with a South Alabama loss to Troy on Saturday, Georgia State would control fourth place with three games left before the conference tournament.