The Tigers could only hit 50 percent of their foul shots and in the second half, with the game on the line, they went ice cold, hitting only 3-11 from the charity stripe.
"That hasn't happened this year," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said when asked about his team's 13-26 performance at the free throw line. "It was just one of those nights when they didn't go. We had been hitting them pretty well."
Marco Killingsworth scores on a dunk for the Tigers.
Along with the trouble shooting from the line, the Tigers also had trouble shooting the ball from anywhere else on the floor much of the second half that saw the Panthers outscore the Tigers 49-34 to overcome a 10-point Auburn halftime advantage.
When Georgia Southern turned up the heat defensively in the second half the Tigers went cold from the floor and were only able to shoot 37.8 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from behind the three-point line.
Panthers' Coach Michael Perry said that his team didn't do anything differently strategically in the second half, but that his team's heightened intensity allowed his game plan to work. "We firmed up some rebounding responsibilities, but more than anything we thought that the zone would work," Perry said. "We knew zone was going to be the mainstay. I knew going down the stretch of that game against UNLV the zone bothered them. I know the strength of their team is their inside presence with (Marco) Killingsworth and (Brandon) Robinson. They score in the paint.
"The perimeter guys get their shots based on the kick-outs from those guys' offensive rebounds," Perry explained. "So what we wanted to do was basically make those guys beat us and we knew (Ian) Young was an outstanding three-point shooter so we really wanted to cheat to him."
Young had by far his worst night as a Tiger. He hit just one of nine field goals and finishing with three points.
Offensively, Georgia State turned things up in the second half as the Panthers shot 61.5 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from behind the arc in the half. One of the main reasons for their improved play was an outstanding performance from the game's leading scorer, 6-11 center Nate Williams. The senior, who just got back from a six-game suspension, made 12 of 15 field goals on his way to a 28-point performance. He was a monster on the boards, too, grabbing a game-high dozen rebounds.
Perry said that he knew Williams would play a huge role in the outcome of the game. "I thought we had a pretty special talent inside that we could go to and I thought that would cause them to make adjustments, which would create opportunities for other guys as well," the Georgia State coach said. "And Nate certainly delivered in a big way."
Auburn's Ellis also noted that he was quite impressed with what he saw out of the Panthers' big man. "He is a pro prospect," Ellis said. "There were a lot of pro scouts in here to watch him play. He is a good player. He is a very good player. He has just come back with their team. That is a good basketball team."
Three other Panthers scored in double digits as senior guard/forward Kevin Williams had 12 and junior forward Marcus Brown added 10. Tiny guard Herman Favors did it all for the Panthers Monday night as he racked up a double-double with 10 points and 11 assists. The Atlanta sophomore also added five rebounds and four steals as well.
Perry said his team played much better on Monday night than it did in a loss at Tennessee in its last outing. "We made some adjustments after that loss Saturday and we just wanted to go out and make the extra pass, play inside out, which we did, and handle their pressure," Perry said. "We wanted to score in transition like we have been doing all year and another key was to challenge defensively because they are an excellent team rebounding-wise."
Despite a strong second half by the Panthers the Tigers seemed to dig their own grave on Monday with poor shooting, a less effective defensive effort and careless ball handling. Auburn turned the ball over 21 times for the second game in a row.
"I thought they were the aggressor," Ellis said. "I thought we fought hard, but we couldn't seem to make shots and we turned the ball over. They made shots and we got them to turn the ball over. From that standpoint it was even.
"I think the fact that we didn't shoot the ball in a close game from the foul and with exception of Nate Watson didn't seem to have a shot hurt us...They zoned us and closed the inside-out," the coach said. "They made all the right moves. They were very physical and Nate Williams was certainly a force inside for them."
Killingsworth led the Tigers with 19 points and six rebounds. Watson found his shooting touch for the second game in a row and scored 18 points on six three-pointers. He also added four assists and two blocked shots. Robinson scored 11 points and added eight boards for the Tigers and Kyle Davis had seven points and six blocks.
Watson said that he wasn't going to make excuses about the quick turnaround from an 11:30 p.m. CST tip-off Saturday night in Las Vegas to the 7 p.m. Monday tip at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. "The time change kind of messes with the body a little bit, but there is no excuse for tonight. It just got away from us tonight and we can't make any excuses about that."
Watson said that the Panthers were the more aggressive team in the second half. "We just came out kind of light," Watson explained. "They came out harder than we did and they fought back and got in the game. We weren't able to recover and make key plays like we normally do and it just got away from us."
Brandon Robinson gets rebounding position vs. the Panthers.
The Tigers looked like a team that was feeling the hangover from a tough loss in Vegas on followed by an all-night plane ride home. Auburn was outscored in the paint 34-32 and outscored in second chance points 11-7.
Ellis said his team didn't look like his team played with the energy it had earlier in the year. "It was tough on our team," he said of the quick turnaround. "I don't think there is any question about that. I don't want to use that as an excuse, but I don't think there is any doubt our legs are not where they need to be.
"At the same point in time, there is going to be a time during the course of the year where it is going to be like that," Ellis says about the Tigers having to play on short rest. "We have got to respond better than we responded in this game."
Georgia State jumped out to a 10-2 lead with 15:53 remaining before the Tigers rallied to tie the game at the 13:27 mark as Robinson made one of two free throws.
The Tigers took the lead at the 12:42 mark on a three-pointer from Watson to move ahead 13-10. By halftime, the Tigers had stretched their lead to 38-28 and looked to be in control of the contest.
That changed early in the second half as the visitors went on a quick 13-4 run to cut the Auburn lead to 42-41 17:33 left.
At the 12:59 mark, a jumper by Williams put the Panthers ahead 47-45. The Panthers increased the lead to a dozen at the 4:56 mark on a layup by Williams.
Auburn fought back and cut the gap to five points with 3:25 left on a basketball by Killingsworth. He had a chance to cut it to four with a free throw, but missed that shot, something that would come back to haunt the Tigers in the final minutes.
AU cut the lead to four points with 26 seconds left on a three-pointer by Robinson. Georgia State left the door open when Reo Logan missed two free throws with 21 seconds left. However, Robinson's three-pointer was wide and Georgia State held off the comeback. The Panthers improved to 5-3 while Auburn dropped to 7-2
The Tigers are off until a Dec. 30th home game vs. Southern Mississippi.