In a rematch of last season's classic SBC Tournament championship game, the Cajuns (10-5, 4-0 SBC) hit 31 of 38 free throws, including all eight in the game's final minutes to pick up their seventh win in their last eight games and stay perfect on the Cajundome floor in seven tries.
"That was an exciting game, and these are exciting times," Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said following the game. "We played a very good team tonight who had won 12 of their last 18 road games, and we knew they would be ready to go and play well."
All five of the Ragin' Cajun starters registered double figures, led by senior Brian Williams' 20 points and 9-for-10 effort at the foul line. It took that type of effort at the stripe to withstand a potent Panther (9-6, 2-2 SBC) team who got a combined 52 points from backcourt mates Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter.
The Cajuns shot 51.1 percent from the field, hitting for better than 50 percent for the third straight game, and hit seven from beyond the arc. But the difference was the foul line where they put up a new season high in attempts and makes, helping negate a night where GSU made nine more field goals and attempted 14 more shots from the field.
"We had to fight back a few times to come back and get the lead, but we won this game at the free throw line tonight," Marlin said.
Shawn Long hit all five of his shots from the floor and finished with 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season, while Jay Wright had his second game with at least three three-pointers in his last three games and finished with 13 points and a career-best six assists.
Meanwhile, Devonta Walker turned in a clutch 15-point, six-rebound outing that included hitting four free throws in the game's final minute. His biggest shots of the game came with just 6.6 seconds remaining when he knocked in both ends of a 1-and-1 situation with the Cajuns clinging to just a 80-79 lead.
Georgia State opened the game on fire, building as much as a 29-12 lead with 8:02 to play in the opening half, getting 14 of those points from Hunter; however, the Cajuns amped up the defense and outscored the Panthers 28-12 the rest of the way to go into the locker room down just 41-40 and set the stage for a back-and-forth second period.
The Cajuns were still down 37-21 with 4:06 to play in the half before going on an 10-0 run in the next 90 seconds go get within just six points of the Panthers on a layup from Long. Georgia State then got a bucket from T.J. Shipes before the Cajuns answered immediately with a jumper from Wright and three-point buckets from Kasey Shepherd and Wright on the next two possessions, scoring nine of the half's last 11 points.
That momentum carried over into the second half where Walker threw down a dunk on the second possession of the period to give UL its first lead of the game. Wright then knocked down two more long-distance shots in the next three minutes to help the Cajuns build its biggest lead of the game at 50-44 less than four minutes into the half.
Then Harrow then got loose for GSU, scoring three of the next four Panther buckets in transition as part of a quick 9-0 spurt that put Georgia State right back in front 53-50. But GSU was never able to build more than a six-point advantage the rest of the way and surrendered the lead back to the Cajuns with less than seven minutes to play on another dunk from Walker as part of a 9-0 Louisiana run of its own.
Free throws from Williams had the UL edge at 73-68 with 5:30 to play, but Hunter and Harrow answered again and after Hunter dropped in a left-hand layup with 1:23 to play, the Cajuns found themselves down 77-76.
One possession later Walker worked his way to the line and put the Cajuns back in front with two foul shots with 52 seconds to play. Hunter then could not connect from three on the Panthers' next trip down the floor and two more foul shots, these from Shepherd, upped the lead to 80-77 with 15.6 seconds to play.
GSU elected not to go for three and instead got two free throws from Harrow to pull back within a point, but Walker kept his cool and pushed the lead back to 82-79 with 6.6 left. The Cajuns did not allow Hunter to get off a possible game-tying three and sent him to the line where he made one before intentionally missing the second; however, the Panthers' last-ditch effort on the rebound was for naught, with Williams closing out the night for UL, fittingly, at the foul line.
The Cajuns will get a week off before returning to conference play, Jan. 15 in Statesboro, Ga., when they take on Georgia Southern.