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Jags' men's basketball team hosts Georgia State Thursday

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(Mobile)--Game 18 Georgia State Panthers (13-4, 4-0) at South Alabama Jaguars (9-8, 2-2)

January 17, 2019 7 p.m. Mitchell Center (5,520) Mobile, Ala.

THE COACHES

South Alabama

Richie Riley (Eastern Kentucky, 2005)

Record at USA: 9-8 (1st year)

Overall Record: 44-36 (3rd year)

Record vs. Georgia State: 0-0

Georgia State

Ron Hunter (Miami [Ohio], 1986)

Record at GSU: 160-89 (8th year)

Overall Record: 434-308 (24th year)

LAST GAME

South Alabama fell 91-62 Saturday at Little Rock. Georgia State defeated ULM 74-73 on a last-second layup.

NEXT GAME

The Jaguars stay in Mobile to host Georgia Southern on Saturday. The Panthers travel to Troy.

ON THE AIR

Radio: 99.5 FM The Jag; J.T. Crabtree (pxp)

Web: 995thejag.com/listen (audio); ESPN+ (video); J.D. Byars (pxp), Pat Greenwood (color)

RANKINGS (through Jan. 15)

USA: #295 NET, #245 Sagarin

GSU: #103 NET, #116 Sagarin

THE SERIES

USA leads 15-13.

Current winning streak: Georgia State, 1 win

USA's last win in series: 86-64 (12/29/17)

Last meeting: Georgia State 90, South Alabama 75 (3/3/18)

USA's last win at the Mitchell Center: 86-64 (12/29/17)

GSU's last win at the Mitchell Center: 83-80 (1/30/17)

USA's record at the Mitchell Center: 4-3

USA's record at home: 9-5

USA's home streak: Won 1

USA's longest winning / losing streak in series: 10 / 6

Notes: Georgia State had a six-game winning streak in the series - its longest vs. South Alabama - snapped in the 2015-16 season in Mobile... The 2013-14 meeting in Atlanta was delayed four days due to snow... South Alabama's 10-game win streak in the series lasted from 1979 to 2003, when Georgia State won 88-56 in Atlanta... USA leads the series 10-9 in Sun Belt games, but is only 2-8 since the Panthers rejoined the league in 2013-14... The Jags' 70-66 win in 2009-10 was their closest win vs. GSU since the first meeting (78-77) on Feb. 16, 1976; the next closest win was nine (70-61) on Jan. 7, 1980... The Panthers' last win in Mobile prior to the 2013-14 victory was in 1977... The Jags' 86-64 victory on Dec. 31 was their biggest in the series since 1982.

OPENING TIP

After three straight games in the series that were decided by a combined five points (1-2 USA record), the last two have been decided by a combined 37 (1-1).

Since Georgia State rejoined the Sun Belt Conference in 2013, the Panthers lead the series 8-2 with six double-digit wins. Both South Alabama victories have come in Mobile (2015-16, 2017-18).

The team that leads at halftime in South Alabama's games this season has gone on to win 15 times in 17 contests. The Jags are 8-1 when leading at the break, with the lone loss coming at New Orleans, and 1-7 when trailing, rallying for an 84-77 double overtime win vs. Coastal Carolina.

South Alabama is averaging 17.0 turnovers forced in its last four games and now ranks fifth in the league in that category (15.2 pg). The Jags forced 17 on Saturday but had just three steals, their second-fewest total of the season.

The Jaguars have converted less than 70 percent at the free-throw line in each of their last nine outings and rank 12th in the league at 63.3 percent.

Josh Ajayi recorded his 500th career rebound at Little Rock, and enters Thursday's game needing three boards to enter the school's top 20. He currently ranks fifth in the Sun Belt with 7.8 rebounds per game.

Ajayi is averaging 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds, and shooting 61.3 percent from the floor in three games vs. Georgia State. He had a double-double in his last appearance against the Panthers in Mobile (16 points, 10 rebounds).

Ajayi has scored in double-digits in 12 straight games, the longest active streak on the team, and has poured in at least 14 in eight of his last nine outings. He is shooting 61.2 percent from the floor over that stretch and his seasonal percentage of .552 leads the Sun Belt.

Trhae Mitchell has scored 22 points twice in his last three games and has four 20-point performances this season. He is averaging 19.2 points and 8.0 rebounds, and is converting 59.2 percent from the field in his last six games.

Mitchell had one block vs. Little Rock, giving him 40 on the season, second-best in the Sun Belt. He is on pace to have the most blocks by a Jaguar since Javier Carter in 2012-13.

In league games only, Mitchell is averaging 18.0 ppg (T-7th), 8.5 rpg (T-3rd) and 2.3 bpg (1st), and shooting 54.0 percent from the floor (5th).

Rodrick Sikes averaged 24.5 ppg vs. Georgia State last season, including a 31-point outing in Mobile. He shot 10 for 15 from the floor and 6 for 10 from 3-point land that night.

Georgia State is the last remaining unbeaten team in the conference (4-0) and boasts the league's longest active win streak (6).

D'Marcus Simonds has scored at least 21 points in each of his three games vs. South Alabama, including 27 last season in Mobile.

PREVIEWING THURSDAY

Head coach Richie Riley on Georgia State

On returning home: "It's going to be tough. We're playing the preseason favorite and No. 1 team in our league. They're really good, and have a lot of experience overall and experience winning too. That's as valuable as anything; they know how to win. We welcome every challenge. We're excited about another opportunity to play at home. The last time we were here we had our best home crowd and won in double overtime against Coastal Carolina. We hope to have an atmosphere like that again. Anytime you play as poorly as we did on Saturday, you're hungry for another opportunity to get back out there and put that one behind you. "

On where Mitchell has improved the most: "First of all, his willingness to want to become better is amazing. I'm so proud of him for that. I told the team yesterday that the reason he's had such a jump is because he wants to get better. He's an incredible listener on the court. He wants to be coached. His passion for the game has grown so much in the past four months. He's in the gym getting extra workouts, he's getting in shots by himself on off days, in practice he gives you everything he has every single day, and he does in the games as well. There is no limit to how good he can be. That's something as a staff we've tried to help him understand and I think it's working. He can be a special player, not just a good defensive player or a piece, but a special player. One of the best players in the league, period. He's embraced that and has made a major stride in his game and I credit his willingness to want to become great and how hard he works."

On D'Marcus Simonds: "It's hard to not focus on him. I think he's a bonafide pro. I've been an assistant at the highest level and he was recruited at those type of schools. He can score in a variety of ways. What makes him special is how competitive he is. He competes every single possession and plays with a chip on his shoulder and he backs it up. I love those type of guys that aren't afraid to put themselves out there and say, 'I'm the best player in this league,' and when they get out on the court, they do everything they can to back that up. "

On Georgia State: "They have other really good players too; it's not a one-man deal. They've got (Malik) Benlevi, (Devin) Mitchell, (Jeff) Thomas and multiple guys are capable of having big nights scoring. They're not a big set team; they don't run a lot of actions that you have to worry about defending like some of the teams we've played. They have five guys in the lineup a majority of the time that can shoot the 3-ball. They can all drive you from the perimeter. Coach (Ron) Hunter does a great job of teaching them how to play and giving them freedom. They're in attack mode 24/7. If you're not ready to guard for 40 minutes, then they'll make you pay. Our alertness and pride guarding the ball have to be great, plus our ability to help without giving up open 3s. That's what makes it tough; if you over-help, they're going to spread it around and make 3s. it's a tall chore, but we're excited to get out there. You can only grow and rise in this league by beating the best and they're the best right now. "

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