MISSOULA, Mont.-Despite 30 points from junior D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State fell on the road at Montana 81-74 on Friday night at Dahlberg Arena. The match-up featured two teams who advanced to the 2018 NCAA Tournament and are both favorited to win their respective leagues this season.
Simonds, who scored 20 points in the first half, finished 11-of-24 from the floor with three 3-pointers. Sophomore Kane Williams scored a career-high 17 points going 5-of-11 from the floor, grabbing six rebounds while dishing out five assists.
Georgia State (1-1) was held to just 38.9 percent from the floor and went just 12-of-24 from the free throw line. However, GSU’s defense held the Grizzlies to just 5-of-25 shooting from beyond the arc.
Montana (1-0) won its season opener as five players scored in double figures, led by 22 points from Jamar Akoh, while Michael Oguine garnered a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the loss, but I am proud of how hard our guys played all night,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “We had a lot of guys in foul trouble for most of the evening, but they played smart when I had to put them back in. Montana is a very good team and I would not be surprised to see them playing deep into March.”
Georgia State had six players pick up at least four fouls including Simonds who fouled out with a few seconds to play. The Panthers were called for 31 fouls which led to Montana going 28-of-43 from the free throw line.
The two teams came into the night both ranked in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll – Georgia State (12) and Montana (16).
Simonds gave Georgia State an early 8-6 lead as he scored the first eight points for the Panthers. Montana responded with a 7-0 run to take a 13-8 with 13:48 to play in the first half before another basket by Simonds.
The Grizzlies pushed the lead to 20-11 with 10:33 to play in the first half and still led 28-20 with just over five minutes to play. The Panthers responded with a 13-5 run to end the half capped by a dunk by junior Chris Clerkley to send the game into the locker room tied 33-33.
Simonds finished the first half with 20 points as the Panthers held Montana to just 2-of-15 3-point shooting in the first 20 minutes. More remarkable was the tie score despite seniors Malik Benlevi and Jeff Thomas, along with redshirt-junior Damon Wilson being held scoreless.
Georgia State scored the first six points of the second half as Benlevi knocked down a 3-pointer and led by as many as seven, 44-37 before back-to-back 3-pointers by Timmy Falls cut the Panthers lead to 44-43 with 13:48 to play.
With a 3-pointer with 11:05 to play, Simonds moved into 13th on GSU’s all-time scoring list and gave GSU a 51-49 lead.
The two teams would battle back and forth before Montana started to pull away and led 67-60 with 3:51 to play. Another 3-pointer by Benlevi with 48 seconds to play cut Montana’s lead to just 74-71, but unfortunately, that is as close as the Panthers could get.
Thomas, who played in his 100th career game, was held to just 1-of-8 shooting. Freshman Nelson Phillips finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while Benlevi added eight points and seven rebounds.
Georgia State held a 46-43 advantage on the boards and 34-30 scoring advantage in the paint.
Georgia State will return home to face in-state rival Mercer on Tuesday at the GSU Sports Arena at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling 404-413-4020 or by visiting GeorgiaStateSports.com/Tix.