ATLANTA - With 12 minutes left in Sunday’s game against its in-state rival, the Georgia State women’s basketball team looked poised to pull an upset as Kendra Long had just nailed her fourth 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run and the Panthers led 51-44.
But as has happened so often in the last three decades of a rivalry that dates back to 1977, Georgia seized control and left town with a victory.
Tiaria Griffin and Erika Ford led the way with 14 points each, and both had a bucket during a 12-0 run that helped Georgia pull away 70-58 in the championship game of the Georgia State Invitational at GSU Sports Arena.
Georgia (8-0), ranked No. 22 by the Associated Press, defeated State for the 16th consecutive time and hasn’t lost to the Atlanta school since November, 1982.
Long, who made the all-tournament team, had an outstanding first half, hitting 5-of-7 shots from the field, including three 3-pointers, but Georgia adjusted and Long got her first and only basket of the second on a long ball at the 12:11 mark.
The visitors from Athens got a free throw from Marjorie Butler, Shacobia Barbee’s bucket and four points from Krista Donald to tie the game at 51-51. Barbee, who also was named an all-tournament performer, grabbed a rebound and led a pretty fast break, feeding tournament MVP Griffin for a lay up and the Bulldogs led 53-51 and were rarely threatened again.
“This was a tough game for our basketball team. We’ve got to develop some maturity and be able to finish games,” said Georgia State coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener, whose team fell to 2-6.
Ashanti Groover had a bucket close, a rare field goal in the paint for the Panthers, and Alisha Andrews had a reverse lay up and a nice runner in the lane to try and keep the Atlanta school close at 61-57 with 4:37 to play. But Griffin hit a three in the corner and Georgia’s defense caused three turnovers, which led to four points from Donald and Griffin’s lay up, and Georgia held a 67-57 lead with two minutes to play.
Long was the best player on the floor in the opening half, sending State into the locker room up 37-33.
Long, a senior guard, had 19 points in the first 20 minutes, including a 6-for-6 performance from the free throw line over the final 2:47, helping the Panthers end the half on a 15-6 run.
“Played very well the first half and led for a good bit of the second half,” said Baldwin-Tener. “We were able to score…we scored 37 points in a half. That’s a lot of points especially against a good team like Georgia. I think our players realize, we played right with them, we’re capable of beating them.”
State built its largest lead of the opening half at eight points, thanks to the combination of Andrews and Morgan Jackson. Andrews fed Jackson at the top of the key and Jackson drained consecutive 3-pointers from nearly an identical spot to cap a 9-0 run and put the hosts up 22-14.
The next four minutes belonged to Georgia.
Starting with a 3-pointer by Ford, the Bulldogs scored the next 12 points and went up 26-22 on a Merritt Hempe feed to Barbee for two of Barbee’s eight first-half points.
State got off to a hot start, jumping out to an 11-4 lead, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Long. She added a lay up to make it 13-9 before Georgia scored five quick points on a 3-pointer from Griffin and a basket by Donald to take its first lead at 14-13.
State answered with three consecutive shots from behind the arc, first by Andrews and then Jackson’s pair at the 11-minute mark.
Ford had a put back and another field goal, then assisted on a bucket by Griffin to hand Georgia a slim cushion at 44-43 early in the second. That’s when Gaby Moss had her only five points on consecutive buckets and Ford drained the last of her shots. While Georgia went on its game-changing run, State went nearly six minutes without a point.
Georgia’s defense, which came in allowing opponents to shoot just 31 percent from the field, held State to 29 percent (9-of-31) over the final 20 minutes. That included a nice job on all-tournament performer Hayley Gerrin, who was held to five points after leading the Panthers with 23 points in the semifinal victory over Jacksonville State.
In the consolation game, Megan Nipe had 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting on her way to all-tournament team honors in George Washington’s 100-71 victory over Jacksonville State.
The Colonials (4-2) forced 28 turnovers and had four others in double figure scoring as Chakecia Miller had 13 points, Dalacy Anderson added 12, Hannah Schaible, 11 and Danni Jackson, 10.
Candace Morton led Jacksonville State (2-6) with 18 points and after scoring 21 points against Georgia State in the semifinals was named to the all-tournament team.