ATLANTA, Ga. – Since Georgia State joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005, the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball has had their way with Panthers, posting wins in all 12 meetings with their conference foe. A surprising fact since GSU has always been a scrappy, hard-working squad.
It was bound to come to an end and it did on Monday night as the Black & Gold dropped a tough 76-66 decision to the Panthers in Atlanta.
"Give all the credit to Georgia State, they came out focused and really executed their game plan," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We have talked about it all year. We have to get better leadership and have to have people step up when adversity strikes, and that starts from the top with me. "
Senior Jamie Skeen led the Black & Gold with 16 points, 12 of those coming in the second half. Junior Bradford Burgess posted his fourth straight double-digit performance with 13 points, all of which came in the first stanza.
Georgia State's Eric Buckner was the dominant force all night, posting a career-high 28 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers.
"They are basically a whole new team from last year and Buckner was one of those guys," Smart said. "We knew from watching film how much of a challenge he was going to be and tonight he proved it. He was phenomenal."
It was a battle early, but back-to-back three-pointers from senior Joey Rodriguez and Burgess sparked a 9-2 run that gave the Black & Gold a 22-15 advantage with 10:34 left in the first half.
With VCU leading 28-24, Eric Buckner ignited a 10-2 Georgia State run to close the stanza and give the Panthers a 34-30 advantage heading into the break.
Buckner and company would continue to stretch the Panthers cushion, pushing it to double-digits on several occasions, including after Josh Micheaux connected on a jumper with 8:55 remaining in regulation to give GSU a 54-44 advantage.
After a dunk from Skeen, sophomore Darius Theus picked up a steal and drove the court, picking up an intentional foul and giving the Black & Gold some momentum. However, after Theus knocked down both free-throws, the Rams were unable to convert, keeping the Panthers lead at six.
It would get no smaller as GSU would hit 11 of 13 free throws in the final two minutes to pick up their first-ever CAA win over the Rams, 76-66.
"Coming into tonight, they had really struggled on the line, so we thought if we put the pressure on them early to hit those shots, we might be able to claw back into the game," Smart said. "Unfortunately, that did not work in our favor tonight."
Theus finished with a career-high 10 points, going 8-of-8 from the charity stripe, while Rodriguez would be the fourth Ram in double-figures with 10 points as well.
Micheaux also posted a career-high with 14 points, while Marques Johnson was the other Panther in double-digits with 12 points and five rebounds. GSU's bench outscored VCU's bench by a tally of 39-13.
"Their depth really hurt us tonight," Smart said. "We knew that no matter who started for them, they would still have guys that came off the bench and had the ability to score."
The Rams return home to face the Dragons of Drexel University in a 7 p.m. televised contest on Wednesday night, which can be seen on CSN.