Panthers show no mercy: Georgia State routes WKU 77-54 in Diddle

WKU’s Brandon Harris attempts to grab a rebound during the second half of WKU’s game against Georgia State Thursday evening in Diddle Arena. Georgia State defeated WKU 77-54.

Tyler Lashbrook

It was a close game until halftime, but Georgia State jumped out on a 22-3 run to start the second half and WKU never really had a chance to claw its way back in the game as the Panthers routed the Toppers, 77-54, for their seventh-straight win.

Both coach Ray Harper and senior guard Brandon Harris said the same thing after the game: the Panthers were better than the Toppers on Thursday night.

“We got our tails kicked every way you can get it kicked,” Harper said.

The Toppers (10-6, 2-1 Sun Belt Conference) 23-point home loss is the largest since Dec. 22, 2010 when Louisville ran out of Diddle with a 32-point win. It was the largest home conference loss since 1998 when WKU lost by 22 to Arkansas State.

WKU kept things interesting in the first half, but it was dominated in the second half, shooting just 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) from the field in the final 20 minutes. GSU (10-6, 3-0 Sun Belt), on the other hand, shot over 53 percent from the field and outscored the Toppers 43-25 in the second period.

GSU senior forward Manny Atkins eclipsed his season scoring average (13.4) in the first half, scoring 14 points. Ryan Harrow, the heralded redshirt junior transfer from the University of Kentucky and Georgia State leading scorer, struggled early, missing his first seven shots from the field.

Georgia State’s lead ballooned to seven midway through the first half after Atkins banked in a runner from the right block, but Harris netted a long ball to give the Toppers some life on the other end.

Atkins came back moments later with a finger roll at the rim, his 14th point of the first half, but again the Toppers answered with a shot from behind the arc, this one from junior guard T.J. Price. Two possessions later, Price drove hard to his right and was fouled at the rim. He split the pair to bring the Toppers within two, 26-24, with 4:51 left in the first half.

A pair of free throws from GSU sophomore guard R.J. Hunter gave the Panthers a four-point lead, but the Toppers answered again. This time it was WKU freshman guard Chris Harrison-Docks; the redshirt freshman ran off a staggered screen and netted a long, three-point attempt from the left wing.

Moments later, Atkins drove and dished the ball off to a wide open Curtis Washington, who promptly slammed the ball in with two hands. Georgia State’s lead extended to seven points before Price knocked down a jumper from the left elbow.

Hunter’s deep three-point attempt banged off the back rim and Price didn’t get a shot off as the halftime buzzer sounded with the Toppers losing 34-29. Fant finished with nine rebounds in the first half, seven on the offensive glass. The Toppers, as a team, recorded 13 of their 23 boards on the offensive end.

The game stayed interesting in the first half, with WKU promptly answering any GSU run, but when the teams took the floor in the second half, it was a completely different story.

“In the second half, we started gambling a little bit,” Harper said. “We didn’t do a very good with our ball screen defense and then we started shooting the ball too quick. ‘Let’s try to get it back. Let’s try to get it back.’

“And we continued to miss wide open rim shots and (shooting) 32 threes is entirely too many. We talked about it, you can’t settle against a zone. If you move the basketball and get some cutters, you’ll get some good stuff. I thought at times we did that, but we didn’t finish when we did.”

WKU shot 20 of its 32 long range attempts in the second half, netting just six of them. For the game, the team, as a whole, hit 10 of its 32 attempts.

The Panthers started the second half on a 6-0 run, extending its lead to 11, 40-29, with 16 and  a half minutes remaining.  Harrow’s first bucket of the game, a long jumper over Price near the end of the shot clock, extended GSU’s lead to 13.

That lead spiked all the way to 24 midway through the second half and the Toppers simply had no answer for the red hot Panthers. Harrow, after missing all seven of his shots in the first 20 minutes, found his rhythm in the second half, finishing with 11 points after scoring none in the first half. He was netting jumpers and splitting WKU’s defense with an incredibly quick crossover and deadly bursts of speed.

“They were just better than us,” Harper said. “They were quicker than us. They dominated us. It wasn’t like we were about ready to make a run at any point in the second half.

“They came in here on a mission.”

A metaphorical lid covered the rim for the Toppers in those final 20 minutes; nothing seemed to fall and when shots did fall, it was certainly too late for any type of conceivable comeback attempt.

Next Thursday they will host Arkansas Little-Rock as Sun Belt play continues.

“You lose basketball games,” Harris said. “We’ve got another one next Thursday and this one (will be) behind us. Hopefully, you know, we can come out, get ready this week and play tougher than we did today next Thursday.”