The Georgia State Panthers placed third place in the Cayman Islands Classic after beating the Georgia Bulldogs, 91-67. Georgia State (4-2) were locked in from deep, shooting 56 percent on 3-pointers and 55.7 percent from the field.
Malik Benlevi, who had 24 points, was a huge reason for the Panthers’ success from three, making eight of his 11 attempts. Jeff Thomas and Damon Wilson chipped in as well, shooting a combined 6-of-13 from three in the game. They played with a lot of energy, and head coach Ron Hunter knew it.
“I thought our guys were absolutely incredible defensively,” Hunter said. “After that [Creighton] loss, I thought our guys could have came back and played at midnight. We wanted to come out and make a statement and there is no doubt that they did.”
This is the third time since 2000 that the Panthers have beaten the Bulldogs. They also handed the Bulldogs their worst non-conference loss since the Bulldogs were defeated by Illinois, 76-42, in 2008.
The Panthers finished this tournament 2-1 after beating the Bulldogs. Their first win came against St. Bonaventure 75-65.
In the win against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, the Panthers forced 18 turnovers and scored 23 points off of them. They also dominated in the paint, where they scored 44 of their 75 points. Freshman guard, Nelson Phillips, came off the bench and produced well, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
“To force 18 turnovers against a very good A-10 team shows how good we can be,” Hunter said. “I’m equally impressed with the continued improvement of Nelson Phillips. He has the ability to be a very special player and showed it tonight.”
After winning convincingly against the Bonnies, the Panthers faced off against the Creighton Bluejays the next night.
The game against Creighton was the opposite of Monday’s game against St. Bonaventure for Georgia State. The Panthers started very slow and shot the ball poorly. In the first half, Georgia State shot a dismal 29.6 percent from the field and missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts. Despite the rhythm they found in the second half, the Panthers would fall short to Creighton and its 43.8 shooting percentage from three.
“We got off to a slow start and we were not able to ever get in our rhythm,” Hunter said. “We will regroup and look to come out and finish the tournament strong tomorrow.”
Creighton marked the third team that the Panthers have played so far this season that made the 2018 NCAA Tournament last season. The other two teams are Montana and St. Bonaventure, who are the Panthers’ only two losses on the season. The Panthers’ 1-2 record against 2018 NCAA Tournament teams will change on Dec. 4 when they face Alabama, who was led to the tournament by Cleveland Cavaliers guard Colin Sexton.
The Panthers’ schedule gets more challenging after the tournament, as they will go on a three-game road trip with games at Tulane, Liberty and Alabama. Georgia State’s next home game will be against Chattanooga on Dec. 12 at the GSU Sports Arena.