ATLANTA-Georgia State opened the 2018-19 regular season defeating East Tennessee State 74-68 Tuesday night at GSU Sports Arena, capped off by a Damon Wilson 3-pointer and Jeff Thomas break-away dunk that turned a one-point Panther lead with under a minute to play into a six-point victory.
Thomas led Georgia State (1-0) with a career-high 26 points, going 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Junior D’Marcus Simonds added 21 points and senior Malik Benlevi added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Wilson finished with six points and a team-high 11 rebounds in his first game in a Georgia State uniform.
ETSU (0-1), which won 25 games a year ago, but saw 10 newcomers in the line-up tonight, was led by Isaiah Tisdale, who scored 19 points in the loss. Mladen Armus just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“That was a really good win,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “We beat an NCAA Tournament team tonight. I thought offensively we were not that sharp early on, but that is okay. As I have said all along, we don’t need to be playing our best basketball now. We just need to keep getting better every day.”
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half as the Panthers’ slight advantage came from their ability to get to the free-throw line. Georgia State converted on 11 of its 16 attempts from the line in the first half, steadying them to a 32-29 halftime lead.
Simonds got the Panthers going in the second half, hitting on two straight from beyond the arc before a Buccaneers 7-0 run helped them to a four-point lead with seven minutes left. But the Panthers responded, tying the game back up on a Benlevi layup before the home crowd erupted as Thomas hit a corner three to put Georgia State back in the lead with five minutes to go.
After a step-back three by Simonds put the Panthers up by six with two minutes to play, a dunk by Myles Armus (11 points, nine rebounds) and a three by Tisdale had the Buccaneers within one. It came after a Georgia State 14-2 run that gave GSU a 66-58 lead with 3:46 to play.
But in the final minute of the game, Wilson pulled down a huge rebound after a Simonds miss and hit a three from the right corner. Simonds blocked an attempt by Armus on the other end and found Thomas who iced it.
With the win, the Panthers are now 8-0 in regular season home openers under Ron Hunter and have won 11 straight openers at GSU Sports Arena. Georgia State has also won six-straight season openers dating back to a 2011-12 loss at Duke on opening night.
Georgia State will hit the road for its next contest against Montana on Friday, Nov. 9 at 9 p.m. ET. It will mark the first of a minimum of four games against opponents who played in the NCAA Tournament last year.