ATLANTA — Manny Atkins’ wide open 3-pointer from the wing with 0.8 seconds to play gave the Georgia State men’s basketball team a come-from-behind 80-77 victory over UL Lafayette on Saturday in the GSU Sports Arena, snapping the Cajuns’ league-best six-game winning streak.
Georgia State is now 20-7 on the year while improving to 13-1 in the Sun Belt. The Panthers are one win away from clinching at least a share of Sun Belt Conference regular-season title. UL-L fell to 18-10 overall and 9-6 in league.
Ryan Harrow led five Panthers in double figures with 18 points, while adding six assists and five rebounds. Devonta White added 17 points while R.J. Hunter had 14. Atkins and Markus Crider had 12 points apiece while combining for 13 rebounds.
Crider scored all 12 in the second half to set a career-high for the second-straight game, going 6-of-7 from the field.
Georgia State used a 21-0 run early in the second half to open a 63-52 lead with 9:26 to play. The Panthers had trailed by double figures most of the first half after UL-L opened the game on an 11-1 run, including three consecutive 3-pointers to start the scoring.
GSU finished by hitting 49.1 percent (27 of 55) from the field and 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) beyond the arc but trailed on the boards 35-30.
“It was just a great game,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “This was a great team effort, but this game was won by Markus Crider. He has been in the zone and let me say this, ‘Markus Crider was a man tonight.’
“Playing four games in eight days is tough, but I thought our guys continued to battle and do the things that were necessary to win. And then Manny Atkins just hit a big-time shot like big-time players do.”
Shawn Long had a game-high 22 points with eight rebounds for UL-L despite picking up his fourth foul early in the second. Bryant Mbamalu had 19 points and Elfrid Payton added 13 points – including six straight in the final minute to tie the game at 77-77 with 30.0 seconds left – with eight assists.
It was clearly a team effort in the second half, which seemed to be night and day from the first period. Sophomores Hunter and Crider did much of the damage, disrupting the Cajuns’ and pushing GSU to one of its longest scoring runs this season. Hunter hit 3-pointers, blocked shots, rebounded and generally befuddled the Cajuns after the intermission while Crider’s dominant presence around the rim proved invaluable.
Hunter started the huge run with a deep trey before Curtis Washington’s putback jump hook in the lane cut the Panthers’ deficit to 41-37, the closest they had been since trailing 3-0 in the opening minute of the game. Washington then drew a foul on Long, UL-L’s leading scorer in the game, and another quick foul sent Long to the bench just four minutes into the second half.
Atkins then hit two free throws before Crider got the house on its feet. Hunter’s steal started a fast break opportunity and Atkins’ dribble drive into the paint led to a sweet bounce pass and monster dunk by Crider to tie the game at 41-41.
Crider then came back with consecutive putbacks on the next two possessions. The first one came from the right side of the basket off a Harrow drive and the next from the left side after collecting a Devonta White miss. It helped him to his second straight double-figure scoring night and career best.
He wasn’t alone in the surge as Hunter set up White’s drive with a block on the other end and Hunter then ripped a 3 from several feet beyond the arc, his second trey in a row. The pair then combined to set up the a breakaway dunk by Atkins as Hunter’s tipped a missed Cajun shot to Crider whose outlet pass set up Atkins’ slam.
The Cajuns did not give up. UL-L pulled within 69-62 with 4:49 to play and while GSU fans thought it was on cruise control, UL Lafayette had other ideas with an 9-0 run to tie the score in the final minute.
It was 77-71 in favor of the Panthers as the clock moved under a minute to play before Payton scored a basket in transition and then, after Hunter missed a layup off a long pass the other way, added a conventional three-point play to pull ULL within 77-76. Payton then was fouled again and hit the first to knot the score at 77-all but missed the second to set up the dramatic final shot.
Harrow brought the ball up and coach Ron Hunter elected to let the Panthers play. With pressure up top by the Cajuns, Harrow was unable to get into the paint for a shot, so he dished to Atkins on the wing who swished the game-winner in the final second.
It wasn’t so easy in the first half.
UL Lafayette got off to the perfect start for a road game, jumping out to 9-0 lead in the first 2:26 as the Cajuns hit three early 3s. It went up 11-1 before Washington scored the first basket of the contest for Georgia State with more than three and half minutes off the clock.
Long contributed to the early Ragin’ Cajuns’ burst, helping push the lead to double figures at 17-5 and putting GSU out of sync. Long picked up his third 3-pointer — he was 3 of 3 in the first half from beyond the arc – to put the advantage back at nine, 25-16, with just over eight minutes remaining in the opening period.
Georgia State was badly outrebounded in the first stanza, trailing 21-10 on the glass. The rebounding dominance helped set up several ULL fast break opportunities, as the Cajuns pushed the lead to 34-24 with three straight baskets, the last a pull-up jumper in transition by Xavian Rimmer.
The Panthers pulled it back within eight at 38-30 to end the period as Ryan Harrow was intentionally fouled on a breakaway and calmly drained a pair of free throws with 0.9 seconds on the clock, the first of the game’s two last-second scores.
GSU hits the road for its next three games, starting Thursday, Feb. 27 against UT Arlington.