The Panthers enter the Sun Belt Conference Tournament this week, but not without our awards

Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

With the Georgia State men’s basketball team wrapping up the regular season Saturday night, they have reached postseason play, where one win ends the year. Their 14-5 record tied the second-best start in program history through 19 games, including six straight wins to end the year.

Through these 19 regular-season games, the Panthers made their presence felt in the Sun Belt Conference, losing just one home game and ending the regular season by winning their final six. The Panthers had all five starters average double-figures in scoring this season and may have found their rhythm at the perfect time.

On their way to a 14-5 record, these 19 contests helped this team find its identity and have allowed them to establish its leaders, difference-makers and players for the future. Five awards will recognize players for different criteria, including their overall performances and improvements on both ends of the floor.

If the Panthers win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, they automatically punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

So, let’s look at a few names who helped guide them to such a prime position.

Most Valuable Player: Eliel Nsoseme

Nsoseme went on a tear in the regular season, averaging nearly a double-double and taking the Sun Belt Conference by storm. He posted up 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game on an astounding 61% from the field. He may very well be one of the most skilled rebounders in program history.

In his first season with the Panthers, the Cincinnati transfer recorded eight games with ten or more rebounds and tallied four double-doubles. He recorded his career-high 20 rebounds against Mercer, and his tenacity on the boards is unmatched by anyone on the team.

After redshirting last season, he is dominant performance on the boards topped anything the program ever saw before. 

Nsoseme’s season saw him post the second-best defensive rebound percentage in program history and average the fourth-most rebounds per game. 

He also etched himself into second place all-time in PER and win shares. With great skill on the court, he translates the skills of being a leader off the court.

“Not just what he does on the court, but when he’s on the bench, he is the number one cheerleader, he motivates guys, he gets in guys’ faces [and] the guys on the team respect him,” Associate Athletic Director Mike Holmes said.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Thomas

The sophomore forward came out with the mindset of knowing his role and using that to thrive under head coach Rob Lanier’s system. Thomas took a while to get going, but he upped the ante once the new year started. He posted games with at least two blocks, including two games where he had four blocks.

His team-high 1.6 blocks per game rank ninth all-time for the Panthers in a single-season and were 67th best in all division-1 this season.

But the Michigan native does not just block shots; he causes turnovers all-around. Thomas averaged nearly one steal a game, leading all forwards on the team. He knows the importance of being accustomed to adaptation in the modern era of basketball.

“With the way the big man is evolving, I have to become more adapted to playing and defending on the wing, as that is essential in today’s game. I have to become more accustomed to defending quicker guys with my footwork and rotation,” Thomas said.

Honorable Mention: Justin Roberts

Roberts came out of the gates aggressive this year and looking to make a statement. He is averaging a team-high 1.6 steals a game, as he has eight games this season where he has multiple steals, including a five-steal game, in a tight matchup against Coastal Carolina. He uses his quickness to play the passing lanes and generate fast breaks.

“He’s gotten comfortable with the leadership role, once he learned coach Lanier’s system, he understood what it took to elevate his game to the next level, and he’s embraced it so far this season,” Holmes said.

Most Improved: Corey Allen

Allen went from averaging 13.5 points a game on 40% shooting from the field and 34% shooting from deep in the 2019-20 season to averaging 14.9 points a game on a more efficient 46% field goal clip and 42% from beyond the arc.

He finished the season on Saturday night against South Alabama with three three-pointers, his twelfth time doing so this season.

Aside from scoring, his rebounding and assists have improved from last season in a game that continues to evolve.

The junior scored in double digits in 15 of the 19 games this season, his second with the team. He also scored 20 or more three times in a season where he put the Sun Belt on notice after not receiving a Preseason All-Conference roster spot.

Allen is currently number three in Effective Field Goal Percentage at 60% and number five in Three-Point Field Goal Percentage in a season for the Panthers. Allen is also sixth in offensive box plus/minus and seventh in true shooting percentage in a season at 62%.

“[Allen] used the offseason as a reset. He was able to clear his head and come out this year and in a normal 32 game season would have been on pace to set a school record for three-pointers made,” Holmes said. “He came in with a clear conscience and went out and played ball just like he knew how.”

Freshman of the Year: Evan Johnson

The freshman guard has given the Panthers decent production off the bench this season and has been steadily improving as the season progresses. Johnson has scored in double figures in four contests off the bench this season, including two 20-point games against Carver College and a monster 28-point outing in a crucial conference matchup against South Alabama.

Johnson scored seven points per game on 44.% shooting from the field, 37% from three and 75% from the line. He also averaged nearly two assists in 16 minutes per game off the bench.

“The beauty of [fellow freshman Collin Collin] is the depth he and Evan give us. They’re mature enough that they know if they make quote-on-quote freshman mistakes, [and] they don’t get down on themselves,” Holmes said. “They want to get back in there and prove they can make the next shot or knock down the next free throw.”

Bench Player of the Year: Collin Moore

Moore found his rhythm in Coach Lanier’s system early and looks to be a vital team member for the foreseeable future. The freshman averaged 5 points a game on 43% shooting from the field and 72% from the charity stripe and pulled down nearly three rebounds per game.

But where Moore really thrives is the ball’s defensive side, as he’s third on the team in steals and has seven blocks on the season. Moore has four games where he has scored in double figures and five games with multiple steals, including a five-steal game against Carver College.

This Panthers team has the tools to make a run at the Sun Belt Conference title, with their depth, big man play, shooting and chemistry. Players are stepping up to the plate and realizing the importance of being a leader. If this team continues to click, look out for a potential Cinderella story in the NCAA Tournament.