The “Battle for GSU” is really only a battle waged on twitter, message boards, and AJC blog comment sections. While both schools have used the GSU initials in years past, the argument heated up once Georgia State started football and more attention has been brought to Georgia State athletics. “State” is the traditional middle word in such acronyms (see OSU, MSU, FSU, WSU, ISU, ASU, etc.) and Georgia State is the larger school and has been a “University” for more than 20 years longer than Georgia Southern. In addition, Georgia State uses the “GSU” acronym in its logos and domain name (www.gsu.edu), while Georgia Southern only uses “GS” in its logos and has a policy of promoting the “Georgia Southern” brand (see (www.georgiasouthern.edu). Accordingly, the “Battle for GSU” is really nothing more than a marketing stunt to try to promote the game.
The two former Trans-America Athletic Conference foes have met 43 times in the series history, with Georgia Southern holding the 31-12 advantage. Last season the Eagles won 74-72 in overtime at the Hanner Fieldhouse. Before that game the Panthers had won three straight over their southern rivals.
Georgia State (8-3) enters the game looking to break a school record and earn their ninth straight victory. The fact that the milestone could come against Georgia Southern (3-6) would certainly make that victory a little sweeter. The Eagles are trying to stop a streak of their own which has seen them lose 24 straight road contests. Their last victory away from Statesboro, Ga came last February against Samford.
Georgia Southern has been plagued all season by lack of experience. The roster features just 3 upper classmen and more than half of their players are freshmen. This has contributed to the Eagles averaging 16.6 turnovers per game (ranks 294th nationally) and consistently getting into foul trouble, averaging 22 fouls per game (ranks 320th nationally).. By comparison Georgia State features six seniors on their roster and average 11.5 turnovers per game (ranks 17th nationally) and 15.6 fouls per game (ranks 21st nationally). Coach Hunter commented on his team’s ability to take care of the ball and play smart earlier this week.
"My teams have always played smart," commented Hunter. "If you don't turn the ball over, you limit the amount of possessions that your opposition has to score. Obviously, the fewer possessions, the fewer chances to score, the better chance to come away with a victory."
Both teams shoot very poorly from the free throw line as Georgia Southern shoots 66 percent and Georgia State shoots 65.7 percent, good for 229th and 237th in the nation, respectively.
Georgia Southern is led by sophomore guard Eric Ferguson. The 6’7 Ferguson was named to the Southern Conference (SOCON) All-Freshman team last season and is averaging 15.4 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounds (6.7 per game) and blocks. Ferguson has not been held to single digits in a game all season. Other key contributors for the Eagles include Ben Drayton (12 points per game, leads team in steals), Willie Powers (11.4 points per game, leads team in assists), and Jelani Hewitt (10.7 points per game, leads team in 3 point shooting).
All of the players mentioned above are guards and the Eagles have gotten very little production from their frontcourt. However, Ferguson is big enough to play in the post and will challenge for rebounds as well as back down a smaller opponent. Look for Ferguson to be guarded by Georgia State Senior forward Josh Micheaux. Micheaux is one of the better defenders on the team and at 6’6 is big enough to put a body on the dynamic guard from Georgia Southern.
Georgia State has been led all season by their point guard Devonta White. The Sophomore leads the team in scoring (13.1 points per game) as well as assists. Georgia State Coach Ron Hunter has called White one of the best players he has ever coached. Also having a great season is the Panthers anchor in the middle, Eric Buckner. The 6’8 forward is averaging 11.1 points per game and has been a terror in the paint on defense. He leads the CAA in blocks with 34 on the season.
One of the qualities of this Georgia State team has been their depth. They get contributions from nearly everyone that sees the floor each night. Jihad Ali is the team’s second leading scorers (12.2 per game) despite coming off the bench for nearly every contest. Micheaux has been one of the team’s best overall performers on the year. He averages 8.3 points per game while leading the team in steals and rebounds and is second on the team in assists. Rashaad Richardson leads the team in three-point shooting making 34.7 percent of his attempts. And finally James Fields, while also filling the role of emotional leader of the team, is having a career season averaging 7.9 points per game, playing great defense, and ranking third on the team in assists.
While both teams boast about the quality of their defense, it would appear the Panthers have the advantage. Defense has certainly been the story for the Panthers during their current win streak as they have held opponents to just 51.8 points per game over that stretch and rank 40th nationally in scoring defense for the season. They also rank in the top 40 nationally in blocks as well as steals.
"Our defense has definitely been a key during the streak," continued Hunter. "We are doing everything we need to on the defensive end, which is leading to some easy transition baskets. Those are critical in close games."
Georgia State will need to continue to play great defense Thursday night against a young Georgia Southern team that is very athletic. Whoever is assigned to guard Eric Ferguson will be in for a challenge and will need to contain him. Another player who must play well on defense is Eric Buckner. Georgia Southern’s athletic guards are very skilled at scoring off the dribble and attacking the basket. He will be charged with protecting the rim and keeping the smaller Eagle lineup out of the paint. Another key factor to the game will be free throw shooting. With the Eagles being one highest fouling teams in the country, the Panthers will need to knock down their opportunities at the line.
The game will be played at 7 PM at the GSU Sports Arena.