Georgia State women’s basketball finished the regular seaon by holding off archrival Georgia Southern by a score of 63-62 in a nip and tuck affair at the ‘Lefty’ Driesell Court at the Georgia State Sports Arena. Makeba Ponder had 20 points on 6 three-pointers, including 3 straight in a 4th quarter run that allowed the Panthers to open up a 5 point lead with 4:45 remaining.

But the biggest dagger was at the end. Angel McGowan tied it for Southern with :18 left. After a time out, Ponder found space at the top of the key and calmly drained in the winner. Patrice Butler put back a missed Alexis Brown three-attempt for the final points. McGowan has 20 in a losing effort.

The immediate impact is Georgia State sweeps their Southern rival for the first time since the two became Sun Belt rivals three years ago. More importantly, State locks up the seventh seed in the conference tourney. Both the Panthers and Coastal Carolina are tied for seventh with 8-10 marks and split the season series, but State has a better win than the Chanticleers. The Panthers downed UT-Arlington, ranked second Coastal’s best win is over Texas State, so State gets the tiebreaker. The Panthers will take on South Alabama at 6p on Tuesday in the first round of the conference tourney in New Orleans. These two teams also split. South Alabama won the first game in early January at the Sports Arena, 77-47. Tiffany Holston missed that game due to a funeral. An Atlanta ice storm prevented her from rejoining the club. She was back for the rematch in Mobile. The Jaguars didn’t have an answer, as she had 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 55-45 Panther win.

Georgia State has an 12-17 record and an 8-10 conference mark. The Panthers won two more regular season and three more conference wins than last season. I went into why I felt the club turned a corner in my last entry. I won’t rehash it here. I will report that KK Williams will miss the rest of the season with her knee injury, forcing Ponder and Kierra Henry to step into her shoes of the shooting guard/small forward slot. Ponder did well on Saturday with her six 3’s. She now has 177, and sits 44 behind Kendra Long’s total of 221.

Instead, I’m going to try and wrap up the regular season, with the good, bad, and downright weird. Here goes:

MVP: Jada Lewis, and it’s not even close. The freshman from McEachern was supposed to apprentice at shooting guard, but the Madison Newby injury forced her to alternate between point and shooting. She logged the most minutes on the club and averaged 32 for the year. Her 17 points against Georgia Southern was her fourth straight in double figures and seventh in the last eight games. She scored 13.2 ppg in Sun Belt contests and has 337 for the year. That means, if she keeps up the pace, she could hit 1,000 before the end of her junior year. A backcourt of her and Newby will give nightmares to other coaches. With apologies to Arlington, it has the potential to be the best backcourt in the league. She should be the obvious choice for Freshman of the Year.

Best win: A 68-65 win over Troy on January 28. I pick this one because the Trojans were held nearly 20 points below their average on their home court. It came on the heels of the Panthers victory over South Alabama and announced that the Panthers are formidable away from home. (They had a 5-4 Sun Belt road record and all the losses were less than 10 points). It was also close as to how Sharon Baldwin would prefer her team play. Tight harassing defense kept the Trojans to 30% shooting, and clogging passing lanes generated 21 turnovers, which led to 23 points and they got 34 paint points. That allowed the snipers room to roam, and Georgia State collected five three-pointers.

A close second is the 64-59 win over Arlington on February 18. Tiffany Holston held Preseason Player of the Year Rebekah VanDijk to eight points (on one field goal) and seven rebounds.

Worst loss: A 72-63 loss at the UL-Monroe Warhawks on January 14. What made this painful is the Panthers had a 42-30 lead halfway through the third. The Warhawks finished the game on a 42-21 run as Georgia State went 0 for 7 from three. The loss did one vital thing. The Panthers knew they let one get away to the worst team in the league. ULM notched only two other league wins, and the Panthers got revenge in an 87-35 pummeling later in the season. Right after that came the four straight road wins.

Now for the weird, but not for the team. For me. Traveling with an athletic team means you hit a variety of spots. And whether it was taking foul shots on an outdoor court in Myrtle Beach and adjusting for the wind, or exploring the Little Rock River Market, there was a little bit of everything. I’m also trying to decide if it’s worth it to write a book about next season like A Season on the Brink. I would add in high school sports, college football, baseball, and softball, but I think it might bore everyone to tears.

Best road trip (sightseeing): Memphis and Little Rock. In both stops, the team hotel was downtown. In Memphis I enjoyed listening to some bands on Beale Street at night. The next morning, I hit Autozone Stadium (where the Redbirds play), The FedEx Forum (Grizzlies), the Gibson guitar factory, and the Peabody Hotel where ducks were in the fountain. I also got to the old Memphis Pyramid, and took the longest freestyle elevator in the country to the Overlook, where there was a beautiful sight of downtown and the Mississippi. In Little Rock, the Bill Clinton Presidential Library was a ten minute walk. I took a brief tour, bought a golf ball with the Clinton seal, and took a quick glance at the Oval Office replica (insert joke about Monica Lewinsky under the desk here).

Worst road trip (sightseeing): Morehead, Kentucky. Morehead State hosted Campbell in football, so the team got stuck in a Hampton Inn an exit removed from the main interchange. The only thing worth exploring was an ATV dealership.

I had some crazy calls that exemplify my desperate need for a color commentator. He (or she) would keep me from tangents, like the five minutes I spent trying to translate Troy’s back-up center La’Tia Fils-Aime’ last name from French into English.

I could have dialed it back when Holston hit a three to defeat American in overtime 60-59. Williams’s inbound pass was stolen, leading to an American three and a two-point edge. When Holston buried her shot, after a couple of ‘Are You Kidding Me?’s, came the epic “And Tiffany Holston got on KK Williams’ Christmas Card list!” Al Michaels, it was not.

There was time in between practices and shootarounds for coaches, managers, trainers, and me, to just mess around and shoot. I got in the habit of attempting three’s and foul shots. Then I started trying behind the back foul shots. I had to move to the left edge of the line, as my dominant right hand kept pushing it to the right. I wound up making 13 during the season.

And finally, there was the downright surreal, like when the bus was pulling into Myrtle Beach, and I was exchanging Direct Messages on Twitter with an internationally known celebrity (not an athlete). That’s when I realized things were bizarre.

I’m heading to New Orleans on Monday night for the conference tourney. I hope to report on different topics when I’m there, so please keep a watch out. Thanks again for sticking with me, and whether or not you’d be interested in reading that book.

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