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#FunBelt Friday: Georgia State is quietly off to a rollicking start

There have been few turnovers and plenty of three’s.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia State at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia State opened its year by beating a non-Div. I school by 40 points.

No big deal, ho-hum, why does that matter. Right?

Historically, it mattered quite a bit. Sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds (20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) recorded the first triple double in program history in the win over NCCAA Carver Bible College.

The Panthers also got a big-time opening night from junior Devin Mitchell, who scored 18 points on six-for-13 shooting (including 5-for-12 from distance). Great performances are expected from Simonds, the reigning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. That isn’t necessarily the case with Mitchell, who averaged 4.8 points and 11.8 minutes per game last year in a fringe role.

But Ron Hunter sees the talented Alabama transfer as a key part of his 2017-18 plan, particularly as a player that can draw defensive attention away from Simonds and junior Malik Benlevi (17 points against Carver). Against a lower division opponent, that offensive plan looked like it could play.

The Panthers did more than just get fat against Carver in the last week. They followed the opening win by traveling to Houston and hammering Rice on Tuesday. A disruptive defense helped Georgia State build a 15-point halftime lead, while forcing 23 turnovers when it was all said and done.

Simonds starred again (14 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds), as did junior wing Jeff Thomas (18 points). To be fair, this is an Owls team with a first-year coach and that suffered heavy personnel losses over the summer (namely Egor Koulechov, who transferred to Florida and scored 34 points in his debut). Nonetheless, it was a true road win over a team from a respectable conference. As early season wins go, a team could do a lot worse.

There were also two interesting developments from the Panthers’ first two games. Most importantly, they have taken great care of the ball, and that starts and ends with Simonds. Last season turnovers plagued them, as they coughed up the ball on 20.0 percent of their possessions, the 279th worst rate in the country according to KenPom. Part of this was due to the ball being the hands of a then-freshman (Simonds) so much of the time.

The results have been far better two games into this season. The team turnover rate is down (16.9%), while Simonds has coughed it up just three times, including zero times in 32 minutes against Rice. Thus far, he’s racked up an absurd 17-3 assist/turnover ratio. And if you believe Hunter, the team came out sloppy against Carver.

“Although we came away with the win, I was not happy with our mental preparation the last two days,” Hunter said. “I didn’t think we executed to our ability and made too many mistakes. With that said, give Carver a lot of credit. They came in and played hard for all 40 minutes.”

While the Panthers aren’t turning it over on offense, they are firing at will from deep. They attempted 35 three-pointers against Carver, the fifth-most attempts in a single game in program history, per a release. That was followed up with 34 attempts against Rice. That’s good for 54 percent of the team’s field goal attempts coming from deep, a nearly 20 percentage point increase from last season.

Will both of these trends — responsible ballhandling and trigger-happy three-point shooting — continue against better competition? We’ll start to find out Friday night as the Panthers travel to Ole Miss.