Louisiana (18-9) at Georgia State (19-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 22, 8:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: GSU Sports Arena (4,100) -- Atlanta, Georgia. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: ULL 12-2, GSU 11-0. Away Record: ULL 5-7, GSU 7-6. Neutral Record: ULL 1-0, GSU 1-1. Conference Record: ULL 9-5, GSU 12-1. Series Record: Georgia State leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: In a critical Sun Belt Conference bout, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns contend with the league-leading Georgia State Panthers at GSU Sports Arena on Saturday night.
Louisiana has been heating up of late, thrusting itself back into the Sun Belt title chase with wins in six straight games. The Ragin' Cajuns are now 18-9 overall, with a 9-5 mark in conference, which has them just a half game behind Western Kentucky for second place in the conference standings. They will host South Alabama next, before a road test against the Hilltoppers.
Although Louisiana has gotten back into the championship conversation, the Panthers are still in control with a sparkling 12-1 league ledger. Georgia State, which is in its first season in the Sun Belt, also owns the best overall record in the league (19-7), helped by its perfect 11-0 mark at home. The Panthers visit Texas-Arlington for their next outing.
Georgia State invaded the Cajundome and downed Louisiana, 77-70, when these two teams met on Jan. 23. As a result, the Panthers own a 3-2 edge in the short-lived series.
Louisiana was tested by Troy on Thursday night and it passed with flying colors, posting a 78-63 victory. The Cajuns sank 54.4 percent of their shots from the floor, while outscoring the Trojans in the paint, 46-28. Bryant Mbamalu led the way with 21 points.
Mbamalu (10.3 ppg) may be a solid complementary scorer for Louisiana, but the main attractions are Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long. Payton (19.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.4 spg) stuffs the stat sheet nightly, and he leads the Sun Belt in assists and steals, while ranking second in scoring. Against Troy he totaled 15 points, seven assists and five boards. Long (19.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) is one of a select few players in the country averaging a double-double for the season, but he also does solid work on defense and is the Sun Belt's leader in blocks.
Georgia State also had an easy time in picking up a victory on Thursday night, topping ULM in a 75-60 final. The Panthers held the Warhawks to 37.7 percent shooting, while doubling them up in points off turnovers (18-9). Manny Atkins tallied 21 points and nine rebounds to pace the winning side.
The Panthers are a well-oiled machine at the offensive end of the floor, as they lead the Sun Belt in field goal percentage (.475), while ranking second in scoring (78.7 ppg), coincidentally behind Louisiana (81.3 ppg). If there is a weak area for Georgia State it is one the boards, as the Panthers are last in the conference in rebounding (31 rpg). R.J. Hunter (19.5 ppg) is the leader of this team, and the third-best scorer in the SBC. However, he had only 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting against ULM. Luckily for the Panthers, Ryan Harrow (17.3 ppg, 4.5 apg), Atkins (13.9 ppg, 6 rpg) and Devonta White (11.3 ppg, 4.6 apg) give them plenty of scoring options.
This game should not lack for offense or star power. In the end, the Panthers' ability to shoot efficiently, mixed with their dominance at home, should win out.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia State 80, Louisiana 76
02/22 10:58:27 ET