But something finally clicked for the Pack midway through the second half. Shots started going in and the defense stiffened, leading to a few of breakaway baskets. To head coach Sidney Lowe, it was a welcome site.
"We really got after it," Lowe said. "We got on them, we dictated the game. Got some steals, got a few stops and a couple of fast breaks. Javi [Gonzalez] did a great job pushing the ball and we ran the floor and got a couple of easy baskets. That was the difference, we blew the game out there."
The Pack played the game without senior Farnold Degand, who did not play and wasn't even on the bench for not meeting Lowe's academic standards for the team. Lowe said that a decision on Degand's future playing time hasn't been made but that he is keeping track of the senior's progress.
"I wasn't pleased with Farnold's effort academically," Lowe said. "He's eligible, so that's not the problem. We have rules, I have rules academically for this ball club and if guys don't meet them then they can't play. That's just the way it is."
Degand had been playing both at point and at two guard, but in his absence both Javi Gonzalez and Julius Mays saw time at shooting guard. The combination struggled at first but both players seemed to find their rhythm late in the game as Gonzalez finished with a impressive line of eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Mays caught fire in the second half scoring 14 of his 16 points to help put the game away.
"It was just something we did today, just a hunch that these guys could play together," Lowe said. "The sets that we ran were simple sets that they didn't have to really think too much about it."
Dennis Horner was one of three players in double-figures, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Tracy Smith led all scorers with 18 points and 11 rebounds despite playing just 25 minutes as he struggled with foul trouble. But the big man also drew plenty of fouls, going to the line 12 times and sinking 10 free-throws.
"This year they changed it up a lot, the refs," Smith said. "You can't two hands on offensive people now, that's how I got two fouls."
The Pack faced off against one of its former players in Marques Johnson, who transferred to Georgia State but played with Horner and Smith when he was with the Wolfpack. Smith didn't waste an opportunity to get in some playful jabs.
"We were talking junk back and forth on Facebook, on the phone all the time," Smith said. "I talked to him after [the game]."
The first half did not go well for the Pack, who struggled at both ends of the court against underdog Georgia State. The Pack shot just 9-of-22 from the field and an even worse 2-of-10 from the 3-point line. Horner led the way with a 4-for-5 performance for 11 points while Smith added eight points but had to sit for a long stretch after picking up his second foul.
"I hope he realized that we don't like that," Lowe said. "He got a couple of them that we thought were soft, meaning in areas he shouldn't have gotten them. He went out one time and put his hands out and its a foul, he kept his hands on the guy, but just certain fouls he can't get."
Their only savior in the first half was the free-throw line, but even there they shot just 12-for-19 while the Panthers had just one attempt for the line. Getting to the line early and often helped the Pack nurse a 32-29 advantage going into the locker room. The second half started out with more of the same as the Panthers tied the game up at 37 each before the Pack put together its run to close out the game.
"I was very pleased with our defense," Lowe said. "I thought overall we had more spurts where we good defensively than the times we weren't. When we let down