By Stan Awtrey
For the AJC
Manny Atkins continues to find a way to contribute to Georgia State’s basketball success.
On Tuesday night he threw a half-court pass that led to Rashaad Richardson’s game-winning shot against Tennessee State. On Wednesday afternoon he discovered his shooting touch and scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Panthers to a 75-73 win over South Alabama in the final game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the GSU Sports Arena.
Georgia State (3-2) swept all three of its games in the tournament. The Panthers are off until Monday, when they host East Carolina at 7 p.m.
Atkins is a 6-foot-6 junior from Tucker who played his first two seasons at Virginia Tech before transferring to Georgia State. After scoring 21 points at BYU, Atkins scored only six in the next two games. But when his first two shots fell Wednesday, his confidence started to grow.
He wound up making eight of 11 from the floor, including five of six 3-pointers. He also led the team with seven rebounds.
“I told myself to take it game-by-game and keep playing hard,” Atkins said. “Tonight the first few shots fell, and after that I got myself going. I felt good, and I kept on shooting. Every time I shot it, I thought it was going in.”
Atkins scored 19 points by halftime. South Alabama made some halftime adjustments and left fewer opportunities for Atkins in the second half. Freshman R.J. Hunter filled the void by scoring 16 of his career-high 25 points in the second period.
“Manny was incredible in the first half, really all game, and R.J. picked him up in the second half,” Panthers coach Ron Hunter said. “Two great performances, but a great team win.”
Georgia State needed all the offense it could muster to fend off South Alabama’s Augustine Rubit, who had his third 20-point game of the tournament. The 6-foot-7 junior from Houston scored 31 points, which matched his career best, and added a game-high 11 rebounds. He scored 72 points in the three tournament games.
Georgia State led 72-64 with 2:20 left in the game, only to see South Alabama whittle away with a barrage of 3-pointers. The last one, from Xavier Roberson, left the Jaguars trailing 74-73. South Alabama then fouled R.J. Hunter, who made the first free throw but missed the second, his only miss in seven tries. Mychal Ammons grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 11.3 seconds.
When South Alabama put the ball in play for the final shot, they discovered too late that Georgia State had switched from a matchup zone to a man-to-man defense.
“I felt like I just did not want to give up a shot,” Ron Hunter said.
The ploy worked. Atkins and Devonta White switched players as the Jags inbounded. The ball went to Ammons, who had no room to drive the lane and wound up on the floor without even getting off a final shot.
“We won tough games,” Hunter said. “This part of the year is to teach them how to win. I can’t do anything in practice to prepare them for this. This is just getting this group better. … And we’re getting a ton of experience. We’ve seen everything in the first two weeks of the season.”