Photo by Gerald Castillo
Bobcats face decisive weekend against Georgia State, Georgia Southern
Texas State believes in taking things one game at a time, but it’s also aware of how decisive this week’s games are.
Sitting atop the Sun Belt standings tied for first with Georgia State, the Bobcats (16-3, 5-1) can make a statement when they travel to take on the Panthers (14-5, 5-1) on Thursday inside the GSU Sports Arena in Atlanta. Texas State closes out the weekend against Georgia Southern (12-7, 4-2) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Statesboro, Ga.
“We’re taking it one game at a time but realistically looking at the big picture, this road trip could be the difference in who wins conference,” senior forward Alex Peacock said. “It would put us a game ahead of Georgia State this next game and beating Georgia Southern, which is another good team. I think they were picked third to win the league. Them and the Louisianas are going to be the deciding (games) in this league. So, we’ve got to take care of them.”
Texas State split its last two games against the Sun Belt’s Georgia schools. The Bobcats opened conference competition with a 73-70 win over Georgia Southern on Jan. 4 in San Marcos. They suffered their lone conference loss of the season to Georgia State, 73-69, on Jan. 6.
Junior guard Nijal Pearson, who suffered a broken nose against the Panthers and was ejected from the game after committing a flagrant 2 foul, called Texas State’s game against Georgia State one of the worst the team has played this season.
Pearson’s teammates agree with him.
“It was a night, you know, nobody really shot the ball well,” Peacock said. “We did good on defense, it was just our offense that kind of let us down. So, I mean, we don’t foresee us having another night like that, where everybody is not shooting well.”
Added senior guard Tre Nottingham: “It happens. It’s a part of the game. It’s a learning experience. You just got to take what you did wrong the first game and hopefully prevent from happening in the second game. That’s why you get two games against certain teams.”
Although the Bobcats are aware of this week’s importance, head coach Danny Kaspar doesn’t want his team looking too far ahead.
“We’re one third through conference, you say, ‘Fellas, we can really, really make a statement by coming here and winning,’” Kaspar said. “But then after that you’ve got 10 more games. So, you don’t want to put everything hanging on this game this early in the year.”
Texas State comes into this week’s games as the Sun Belt’s highest rated team by KenPom (No. 99) and the NCAA’s NET Rankings (No. 108). Georgia State is rated No. 111 by KenPom, while Georgia Southern is No. 123.
The Bobcats possess the conference’s best scoring defense, while Georgia State is No. 6 and Georgia Southern is No. 10.
Offensively, however, Texas State is rated below both Georgia teams at No. 9 in scoring offense, averaging 75.8 points per game. Georgia Southern is the top scoring offense in the Sun Belt, while Georgia State comes in at No. 7.
The Bobcats will have to battle again with the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, the Panthers’ D’Marcus Simonds, who averages 19.7 points per game but only scored seven points in their first matchup. Texas State will have to stop Georgia State senior forward Malik Benlevi, who led the Panthers with a game-high 19 points in the first game.
The Bobcats will have to stop Georgia Southern senior guard Tookie Brown and redshirt sophomore guard Quan Jackson on Saturday. Brown scores an average of 17.1 points per game, while Jackson records 16.2 points a game. Texas State will also have to defend senior forward Montae Glenn, who missed the first game. Glenn scores 10 points per game.
With a big week ahead, the Bobcats feel they’re ready for the task at hand.
“It’s a huge week,” Nottingham said. “Going in, you know, these two teams are preseason favorites. They were picked ahead of us. We understand that Georgia State is the defending champ. The first time we played them, we didn’t play to our best, Nijal got ejected, we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, including myself. I feel like going into this game Thursday, we’re more motivated, we’re more hungry, we’ll be fine.”