When it was announced Georgia State would be joining the Sun Belt Conference, Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin offered a quick opinion.

The Panthers would be a major player in the league immediately.

He was right.

And, with the two teams meeting in the Sun Belt finals that first year, the rivalry was born.

The two teams meet at the GSU Sports Arena in downtown Atlanta Thursday night.  It will be the only meeting between the two teams in the regular season.  And, once again, the two appear to be the class of the league.

The Cajuns (20-3, 10-0 Sun Belt) have won ten straight games.  The Panthers (18-6, 9-2) have won nine straight.

Georgia State has won the last four meetings.  They defeated the Cajuns three times last season.

Make no mistake.  The two teams don't like each other.  Marlin and Ron Hunter do not send each other Christmas cards.

The first three games were all nail biters.  Georgia State handed the Cajuns their first home loss of the season in the first meeting, winning 77-70 as R. J. Hunter scored 28 of his 33 points in the second half.  Georgia State hit 25-31 free throws including 13-15 in the last 1:28.

In the second meeting in Atlanta, the Cajuns trailed by twelve points with just under eight minutes left and were down nine with 1:45 to go.  Louisiana tied the game 77-77 in the final minute but Manny Atkins nailed a three from the corner with 0.8 left for the game winner.

Then came the Sun Belt Tournament title game.

Again the Cajuns had to battle from behind, erasing a 66-55 deficit with 5:21 remaining.  Tournament MOP Bryant Mbamalu hit a bucket inside with 1.4 seconds left to force overtime.  Elfrid Payton scored six of the team's ten points in the extra period and got a defensive stop against Ryan Harrow on the game's final play.  Xavian Rimmer scored 27 points.  Harrow had 37 for the Panthers.  The Cajuns got the NCAA tournament bid, while Georgia State had to settle for the  NIT.

In 2014-15 the teams split in the regular season, with the Cajuns winning in Lafayette, 84-80, making 31-38 free throws.  In Atlanta, the Cajuns had a terrible first half, scoring just 18 points as the Panthers took a 14 point halftime lead and won by eleven.  The two teams met again in the tournament semifinals and Georgia State ran out to a 44-27 halftime lead.  The lead grew to 24 before the Cajuns mounted a comeback, but fell 83-79

In 2015-16, the Cajuns embarrassed Georgia State in front of their home crowd, as Shawn Long tallied 27 points and 18 rebounds as the Cajuns rolled, 87-54.  But the Panthers  But Georgia State got a measure of revenge, putting five in double figures to beat Louisiana at the Cajundome 72-69.

Last season it was all Panthers.

Georgia State shot 63% in handling the Cajuns 101-86 as the Cajuns gave up 54 points in the first half.  In Atlanta, the Cajuns once again fell behind by 15 before their second half rally fell short, 85-82.  Georgia State completed the hat trick in the Sun Belt Quarterfinals, beating the Cajuns 86-76.

If the Cajuns can make it eleven in a row they'll have a three game lead plus a tiebreaker over the Panthers, putting them in commanding position to win the regular season Sun Belt title.  A Georgia State win makes it a race.

Our game preview tomorrow will break down this year's meeting.

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