Men’s basketball wins season opener 74-68

The Panthers play against Georgia College at the GSU Sports Arena on Thursday, Nov. 1. Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

Georgia State’s season opener came down to the wire with the Panthers and East Tennessee State neck-and-neck until the final minutes of the game. The Panthers led by just one point with 1:37 left in the game, and then transfer Damon Wilson sealed the game with a clutch 3-pointer and a full-court pass to Jeff Thomas for a wide-open dunk in the final minute.

Thomas led the Panthers in scoring with 26 on the night, followed by D’Marcus Simonds with 21. Malik Benlevi finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Georgia State is still without one of it’s best players, senior Devin Mitchell, who is injured and being assessed on a game-by-game basis. Mitchell will help the team by spacing the floor and defending perimeter shooters when he returns. He is not expected to play this Saturday against Montana.

The Georgia State offense struggled to find itself early on. The team shot just 30 percent from the field in the first half, well below its season average of 46 percent from last year. This, along with six turnovers and no points from the bench, sent Georgia State into the half with only a 3-point lead.

The Panthers had early foul trouble in the second half. Four different players were flagged for offensive fouls in the first 10 minutes which gave ETSU some momentum to tie the game 50-50.

The Panthers also had a rough night on the glass, giving up 27 offensive rebounds to the Buccaneers. Their guard-heavy lineup lacks a serious presence down low, but Wilson led the team with 11 rebounds.

“We recruit great rebounding guards, and I didn’t think we rebounded with our guards like we should have,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “But that usually gets better as we go, so I don’t get [too worried] about it right now.”

The unanimous Sun Belt Conference favorites are now 8-0 in season openers under Hunter. Georgia State travels to Montana for a game against the Grizzlies on Friday night before its next home game against Mercer on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.

“This is the hardest non-conference schedule I’ve put together since I’ve been head coach,” Hunter said. “These guys, they want this schedule, they want to play this schedule, and that’s the exciting part about it.”