p. For the second straight year, the College will meet Georgia State University in the first round of the CAA Tournament. Friday’s matinee matchup will pair the fifth-seeded Tribe (14-15, 10-8 CAA) with the 12th-seeded Panthers (9-20, 5-13). In last year’s first round game, the Panthers’ Leonard Mendez connected on a 35-foot buzzer-beating three to send the College home.
Since its final game Saturday – a 54-43 loss to Virginia Commonwealth University – the Tribe has taken a few days off to rest and prepare for its rematch with Georgia State.
The two teams met only once this season Jan. 12 when the Tribe rallied from 16-down to defeat Georgia State 60-58 in Atlanta. That game marked the College’s third-straight double-digit rally for a win in conference play and came in the middle of the Tribe’s six-game CAA winning streak.
“That game was so long ago it seems like another season,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “It’ll be a tough matchup, but there isn’t one in this league that isn’t a tough matchup, so it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
In that contest, the College’s three leading scorers – senior forward Laimis Kisielius, senior guard Nathan Mann and sophomore guard David Schneider – reached double-digits in scoring to pace the Tribe. The most recent time all three reached scored at least 10 points came in the College’s last victory – a 57-50 defeat of Drexel. In the three games since the Drexel win, the trio has combined to shoot 25 percent from the field and just 20.3 percent from three-point range. If the trend holds, the Tribe faces an uphill climb in order to advance in the tournament.
After winning nine of 10 conference games to boost its CAA record to 9-3, the College has dropped five of six conference games and six of its last seven contests. During its last seven games, the Tribe has averaged only 54 points per game, while shooting 26.3 percent from three-point range.
“Well we were just saving all the makes for this weekend I think,” Shaver said. “We’re counting on those going in the hole for us this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Georgia State enters the game winners of three of its past five games and with new faces in the starting lineup. First-year coach Rod Barnes inserted sophomore guard Michael Moynihan into the starting lineup for the first time with five games remaining in the regular season, while Barnes added senior center Deven Dickerson to the starting five just three games ago. Since then, Moynihan has averaged 13.9 points and 3.8 assists per game, and Dickerson has averaged 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.
Moynihan and Dickerson have brought extra offense to a team that ranks second-to-last in scoring in the CAA at 61.7 per game. Mendez leads the Panthers in scoring at 16.1 points a game, ranking fifth in the conference. Mendez and running mate sophomore Trae Goldston are among the conference leaders in three-point field goal percentage, as each nets 40.6 percent of their attempts.
With Mendez and Goldston in the backcourt, 6’7” junior forward Rashad Chase gives the Panthers another interior option in addition to Dickerson, averaging 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
Throughout the season, Georgia State has played in close games, as seven of its 13 CAA losses have come by five or less points. After nipping George Mason University 66-64, the Panthers suffered a string of two-point defeats in January, including the 60-58 loss to the Tribe.
For the Panthers, Friday’s game gives them an opportunity to end the 12th-seed’s drought at the tournament. In the two previous no. 5 vs. no. 12 matchups, the fifth-seed has come out on top. Meanwhile, the Tribe will be looking for its fourth-ever CAA tournament victory and its first since Mar. 4, 2005 when the College defeated James Madison University 68-54.
Last year’s 70-68 first round loss to the Panthers saw the Tribe mount a furious comeback in the game’s final 1:17, as then senior Adam Payton converted a three-point play with 4.7 seconds left to cap a 11-1 College run that gave the Tribe a 68-67 lead. But Mendez’s buzzer-beater erased the College’s comeback effort, sending Georgia State into the quarterfinals.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to face fourth-seeded Old Dominion University (17-14, 11-7) Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Shaver Earns CAA Coach of Year Award
At tonight’s CAA awards banquet, Tribe Head Coach Tony Shaver was awarded Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Tribe to a 10-8 conference record and its second-ever double-digit win season in the conference. Shaver follows Charlie Woollum and Bruce Parkhill as the College’s third recipient of the award.
“You get an honor like that it’s just shared by so many people really,” Shaver said. “The whole team, but I think especially the seniors who’ve come from so little to real respectability in this league, so I think they share more in that than anybody.”
Shaver guided a Tribe team predicted to finish ninth in the conference to a fifth-place finish in the CAA.
In addition to Shaver’s award, senior forward Laimis Kisielius, senior forward Chris Stratton and sophomore David Schneider also received recognition for their play this season and their prowess in the classroom. Kisielius earned third-team All-CAA and second-team All-Academic honors, while Stratton joined Kisielius on the All-Academic second team. Meanwhile, Schneider garnered first-team All-Academic accolades.
Kisielius’s all-conference citation marks the first such honor of his career.
The Tribe faces Georgia State Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the first round of the CAA tournament.
Keys to the game: No. 5 Tribe vs. No. 12 Georgia State – CAA First Round
Written by Jeff Dooley, Flat Hat Sports Editor
When the Tribe has the ball
1. Get to the charity stripe – As simple as it seems, the Tribe has the most success when it gets to the free throw line more than its opponent. In order for this to happen, the team must not park themselves out at the three-point line and rely only on long jump shots. Sophomore point guard David Schneider should take the lead on this, as he shoots 86 percent from the line and only 33 percent from beyond the arc. With Schneider penetrating and either drawing contact or kicking it out to his teammates (he ranks third in the CAA with a 1.96 assist-to-turnover ratio), the Tribe offense will be in good shape. This will also lead to better looks from long distance for sharp-shooting seniors Nathan Mann and Laimus Kisielius. A high shooting percentage is a must for the Tribe, as the team does not rebound well (ninth in the CAA with a rebounding margin of negative two) and the Panthers’ junior Rashad Chase pulls down nearly eight boards per game.
2. Maintain balance – The College doesn’t have a go-to scorer (Schneider leads the team with 10.9 per game) that it can rely on, so it is important that the team take advantage of its impressive balance on the offensive end (all five starters average over eight points per game). No one on this team is a real threat to take his defender one-on-one, so they have to play smart basketball and knock down open shots when opportunities present themselves. It is very important to the Tribe’s success that sophomore forward Danny Sumner (the team’s best athlete) get involved early, as he is the player most likely to create instant offense off of cheap buckets and finishes around the basket. If the Panthers have to focus on guarding all five players on the court at any given time, that is going to lead to more open looks for the Tribe.
When the Panthers have the ball
1. Defend the three-point line – The Tribe is well aware of what Leonard Mendez is capable of. The Panthers’ junior guard sent the College packing in last year’s first round contest between the two teams after he hit a 40-footer as time expired to win the game for GSU. Mendez is turning out an impressive season this year as well, ranking fifth in the CAA in both scoring (16.1 ppg) and three-point shooting percentage (40 percent). It is from beyond the arc that the Panthers are most dangerous, as collectively they shot 37.5 percent from long range for the season, good for second-best in the CAA. Mendez and backcourt mate sophomore Trae Goldston teamed up to shoot over 40 percent from deep this season, making it essential that the Tribe respect the duo’s shooting capabilities. If the College is able to contest every deep shot and get the Panthers’ shooting percentage somewhere in the 25 to 30 percent range, they should be in good shape.
2. Don’t take GSU lightly – It would be easy for the Tribe to look at the Panthers’ lackluster, last-place performance this season and write them off as an easy opponent. But if the team were to look at GSU’s last five games, they’d see an opponent that finished the year 3-2, scoring 70.6 points per game while shooting 45 percent from distance and 47 percent overall. If the Panthers come out playing at that level in the first round, the Tribe could be in trouble. That is why the College must come out with a high intensity level, scrapping for every rebound and loose ball to gain any advantage it can over its opponent. If the Tribe takes the Panthers too lightly, it could be in for a rude awakening Friday afternoon.
Be sure to check FlatHatNews.com starting Friday afternoon for all your CAA Tournament coverage of the Tribe, including live stats, game stories, commentary and more.