The Georgia State Panthers men’s basketball team won their first-ever visit to McCamish Pavilion, defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 65-58 on Saturday afternoon in the inaugural A-Town Showdown, an exhibition to raise funds for hurricane relief.
The two downtown Atlanta universities, their basketball programs, and well-respected head coaches (Ron Hunter of Georgia State University and Josh Pastner of Georgia Tech) decided to get together for a good cause, raising money for hurricane relief efforts all over the country, including those in U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, as well as others islands in the Caribbean affected by one of the most destructive hurricane seasons in recent history.
The game may have been an exhibition in name and a welcome relief effort in the cause but it was far from a relaxed affair between neighbors as both teams went after it — diving for loose balls, enthusiastically cheering on defensive plays — from the start. Both coaches played not only starters but also freshmen and reserve players.
Georgia Tech may have already had other exhibition games scheduled — on Nov. 2 against Faulkner University and a meeting with UCLA in Shanghai, China on Friday, Nov. 10 — but it was clear they were trying to win this one first. Georgia Tech’s first seven games of the season with the exception of the China trip will be at home.
Their guests had a similar idea as the Panthers went ahead 11-4 following a 7-0 run early in the game and by 10 points, 20-10, following a three-pointer by junior forward Devin Mitchell. Five different Panthers would make at least one three-pointer during the first half as the team made over 30 percent of their attempts (6-17).
One of those players was Sun Belt Conference preseason first team selection and 2016-17 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year D’Marcus Simonds, who only made one three-pointer (1-3) but scored a game-high 17 first-half points on a number of creative drives and free throws. Simonds was 6-8 from the line.
Georgia Tech finished the first 20 minutes of the game 1-11 from beyond the arc, courtesy of senior guard Tadric Jackson, who scored eight first-half points. Yellow Jackets senior center Ben Lammers led the team with 12 points and four rebounds.
The crowd in attendance, far from even half full on this college football Saturday afternoon, didn’t react like they were in exhibition mode either as they were heard shouting “Yellow…Jackets” and “Let’s Go State” throughout a timeout period with 4:28 to play in the first half and the Panthers ahead 29-21.
Georgia Tech failed to pull within less than five points as the Panthers attacked their zone with the more three-point shooting. Jackson and Lammers pulled the Yellow Jackets within five points at halftime after the two combined for 10 points late in the half but Georgia State led 36-31 at the half despite their efforts.
Georgia State opened the second half with a Simonds steal and dunk that brought his teammates and coaches to their feet and seem to knock a little sting out of the Yellow Jackets at the same time. The Panthers would quickly gain their largest lead of the game, 44-33, at the 14:44 mark of the half. The difference would remain the same seven minutes later as the teams exchanged baskets.
Tech put together a run of sorts, pulling within nine points with 4:48 remaining in the game, following a fast-break dunk by freshman Moses Wright. A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, the 6’9” Wright is a promising prospect that looks to fit well into Pastner’s plans for the future.
Ads will be highly touted freshman point guard Jose Alvarado, who got his first taste of college basketball and finished with more fouls (3) than points (2 on 0-10 shooting).
Georgia State found its answers on offense from the same source it did during the first half, as Simonds scored five straight points for the Panthers to bring their advantage back to 11 points at 61-50 with 3:19 to play. He scored another two points, 30 in all, while driving through the Yellow Jackets zone to give the Panthers 65-53 lead.
Georgia State junior Malik Benlevi scored 13 points and junior guard Jeff Thomas added 12 points. Georgia Tech was led in scoring by Jackson and Lammers with 14 points each. Sophomore guard Josh Okogie was 2-7 from the field and 3-3 from free throw line for eight points total.
Georgia State will play again on Thursday night in an exhibition at the GSU Sports Arena against Lees-McRae College at 7 p.m.