Georgia State downed South Alabama yesterday 55-45, in front of a crowd of about 2,500, mostly elementary school students, at the Mitchell Center in Mobile, Alabama.
The game turned during the second quarter. South Alabama entered the frame with leading 12-8, but tight Georgia State defense held the Jaguars to no field goals and only 1 point. The Panthers entered halftime holding on to a 20-13 lead. That one point represents a Georgia State record for fewest points given up in a quarter in the year-and-a-half since women’s college basketball adopted the four-quarter framework.
The Jaguars came back in the third quarter and was within striking distance throughout the fourth, but Georgia State was able to keep a lead. The Jaguars were forced to foul, and the Panthers went 11 of 13 from the line to get the win. Interestingly enough, Georgia State was kept from shooting free throws in the first three quarters.
Tiffany Holston and Jada Lewis each had 12 points to pace Georgia State. KK Williams contributed 10, including seven of eight from the line in a big performance the day before her birthday. Holston also added ten rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. Chyna Ellis had 11 to lead South Alabama. The Jaguars absorbed their fifth straight defeat. They are a different squad since Marquita Daniels was suspended for violation of team rules.
These two played two and a half weeks ago, and that was radically different, as South Alabama won 77-47. The Panthers shot 15% from the first half . Holston was not in the line-up, and her presence drastically changed the rematch. Here, Georgia State scored 32 points in the paint, as South Alabama couldn’t dominate inside like. The Jaguars couldn’t adjust, and Georgia State got the win.
The Panthers see their six game losing streak end, but they really didn’t play that bad. In the last four games of the streak, Georgia State shot better than 40% from the floor and lost each game by less than 10. A different factor arose in the last three. A lack of an outside shot doomed them versus Louisiana-Monroe. Georgia State was outrebounded against Appalachian State. And turnovers were the issue with Coastal Carolina.
With the win, Georgia State moves into a 3 way tie for ninth in the Sun Belt. They are one game out of sixth and three out of fourth. That fourth place is big in this new look Sun Belt. The top four seeds earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Whether or not the Panthers can move into that slot depends on how the Panthers can get a rhythm on offense. Coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener has already used 12 different starting combinations this year. With point guard Madison Newby out for the season, getting a reliable distributor has been difficult. Jada Lewis has shown a scorers touch, but she’s been inconsistent. She’s averaged 20 points on Sun Belt Thursday games, but only seven on Saturday. Jaylyn Harrison can move the ball around, but needs to be comfortable at the point.
Lewis in particular is intriguing. A veteran on three state title winners at McEachern, she could be the star for the Panthers to build around. She leads the team in minutes, and only needs 3 points to reach 200. Harrison and Astaja Tyghter are AAU and high school teammates in Orlando. Makeba Ponder has played through some injuries that limited her effectiveness, but Lewis could take the pressure off her. Ponder would realize that she does not have to rain down three-pointers if Lewis can both penetrate and hit from outside. The pieces are there, it’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page.
Georgia State plays at Troy on Saturday. The Trojans represent the polar opposite of South Alabama. The Jaguars are last in scoring, but Troy is first, pumping in 85 points a game. The Trojans like to force steals, put the ball in transition, and attempt a jumper before the shot clock hits 20. Caitlyn Ramirez is an inside force, and Jayla Chills ably fills the scoring void left by Ashley Beverly-Kelley. The Trojans won the conference tournament last season, getting a 15 seed in NCAA’s.
The other freshman in Georgia State’s class is Shaquanda Miller-McCray. The Sumter, SC native took her first plane trip when Georgia State traveled to Louisiana for a pair of games two weeks ago. She is 6’3″ and has 8 blocks in 61 minutes, an average of almost 1 block per 7.5 minutes. By contrast, the conference’s block leader, South Alabama’s Ellis, has a block per nine minutes this year.
After Troy, Georgia State plays four squads to whom they lost to by less than ten the first time around. If they can get hot against those squads, a better seed in the conference tourney might be in the offing.