Georgia State, the two-time defending Sun Belt regular-season champs, face the possibility of not even making it to the conference tournament following a 54-53 loss to Troy on Saturday.
The Panthers (13-10, 6-8 Sun Belt) have lost six of their last seven games and seven of their last nine following the defeat to the Trojans, the last-place team in the Sun Belt.
Saturday’s defeat was like so many others during the streak: Georgia State’s offense was sporadic and the mistakes it made came at the worst times. The Panthers’ 3-point defense disappeared in the second half. The team couldn’t hit an acceptable percentage of its free throws and its transition offense was mostly non-existent.
Behind 48-47, Georgia State missed an opportunity to take a lead when Isaiah Williams put up a shot with clock nearing 0.
After a defensive stop, Georgia State missed another chance because of an Austin Donaldson turnover.
After yet another defensive stop, Kevin Ware missed a 3-pointer, leaving the Panthers trailing by one with 3:56 left.
Troy increased its lead to two on a free throw by John Walton III with 3:33 left.
Williams gave Georgia State a 50-49 lead with a 3-pointer, his first field goal of the game, with 3:06 left. Williams had missed his previous five shots as he continues to struggle.
Markus Crider completed a three-point play to extend the Panthers’ lead to 53-49 with 2:25 left.
Wesley Person hit a 3-pointer for Troy to cut Georgia State’s lead to one with 34 seconds left.
Williams followed his pivotal 3-pointer by stepping out of bounds trying to escape a trap with 30 seconds left.
The Trojans took advantage of the mistake to take a 54-53 lead on a layup by Walton with 10.4 seconds left.
After Georgia State called a timeout, Williams missed a layup with four seconds left – the second consecutive game he missed a potential game-winning layup – and Crider missed the follow.
Here are five observations about the game:
Point guard play
Georgia State’s three point guards – Williams, Isaiah Dennis and Donaldson – combined for four points on 1-of-10 shooting with five assists and seven turnovers. Donaldson, a freshman, is playing more and more (20 minutes against Troy after 10 minutes against South Alabama) because of the ineffectiveness of Williams and Dennis on offense. Williams missed 11-of-14 against the Jaguars to lower his shooting percentage to 32.7 on the season. After scoring a career-high 18 points at Appalachian, Dennis has 10 points total in six games, including not even taking a shot against Troy.
Because the point guards are struggling, the Panthers’ transition offense struggled against Troy. Despite forcing 17 turnovers, the Panthers had just eight fast-break points. Assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie said after the game that the lack of transition offense is putting too much pressure on the half-court offense.
As a result, the Panthers shot 34.5 percent, including missing 10-of-12 3-pointers. The team closed the game missing six of its final eight shots, including its last four.
Troy hit 7-of-18 3-pointers, including the key one by Person. The Trojans hit 6-of-10 3-pointers in the second half.
Georgia State’s past eight opponents have each hit at least six 3-pointers.
Georgia State hit just 13 of its 22 free throws. T.J. Shipes was 0-for-5. This is another relatively easy source of points that the Panthers aren’t taking advantage of this season. The team is hitting less than 70 percent of its free throws this season.
Kevin Ware didn’t take any free throws. LaBarrie said after the game that Ware was trying a new less-is-more approach in this game in an attempt to see if it would help the offense.
Sun Belt tournament
The Panthers are tied with South Alabama for the sixth (or eighth depending upon your viewpoint about ties) place in the conference. Only the top eight teams make it to the conference tournament. The Panthers and Jaguars are 1 ½ games ahead of Texas State and Appalachian State.
Georgia State trails leader Arkansas-Little Rock by six games with six remaining.
The top two teams will receive a double-bye to the semifinals. The top four will receive a bye to the quarterfinals. The Panthers trail fourth-place Texas Arlington by three games in the loss column. The Mavericks are playing Appalachian State at 8:15 p.m.
Georgia State’s schedule doesn’t bode well for their chances of making the tournament, much less the top four. The Panthers’ remaining games:
Feb. 18 vs. league-leaders Arkansas-Little Rock (12-2), which defeated the Panthers 63-53 in their first meeting
Feb. 20 vs. sixth-place Arkansas State (7-7), which defeated the Panthers 75-69 in overtime.
Feb. 23 at Georgia Southern (7-7), which lost to the Panthers 69-66 in overtime.
Feb. 27 vs. Appalachian State (4-9), which defeated the Panthers 76-67.
March 3 at second-place Louisiana-Lafayette (10-4), which defeated the Panthers 87-54.
March 5 at third-place Louisiana-Monroe (9-5), which lost to the Panthers 65-51.
It would still take Texas State and Appalachian State, the two teams trailing Georgia State, to win at least two of their remaining games to tie the Panthers. The Bobcats and Mountaineers won’t play each other in the remaining games, so one of them can’t be penciled in for an automatic win.
It seemed mathematically improbable two games that Georgia State wouldn’t advance to the tournament, but that was before the Panthers lost those two games.