The defeat snapped the Panthers’ 18-game home-court winning streak.
Before I get into my thoughts, let me preface by saying that it seems fairly evident that there’s something – I wouldn’t say wrong because the team has a winning record at 9-5 – but not quite right with the squad.
That may not be a bad thing. No team wants to peak in January. Having said that, it’s obvious that Georgia State isn’t peaking with a big game at Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday.
I’m not sure if it’s chemistry that still needs to be developed between the players, or that they are still learning nuances of coach Ron Hunter’s offensive and defensive schemes, but there is a crispness lacking that was there last year.
Some of that chemistry – and the positive results — last year was generated by seniors Devonta White and Manny Atkins, do-everything players that were capable of creating offense out of nothing. This year, there’s just one player capable of doing that, Ryan Harrow.
The chicken or the egg. Is Georgia State’s offense struggling because R.J. Hunter is struggling, or is R.J. Hunter struggling because Georgia State’s offense is struggling?
After seeing zone defenses that affected his 3-point shooting in Saturday’s win over Arkansas-Little Rock, Hunter and the Panthers were befuddled by Texas State’s man-to-man defense on Monday. At times, it was as if the Panthers had never seen a man-to-man scheme. They certainly couldn’t get Hunter open for even a second to get a decent shot.
I’ve watched Hunter shoot a lot of shots during his 2-plus years at Georgia State and he didn’t look remotely comfortable on Monday in missing all 10 of his 3-pointers. His feet were rarely set. At times he seemed more focused on trying to draw a foul by falling down after shooting than on focusing on his fundamentals. Other times he was pushed around by the physical defense, something he will see most nights should he make it to the NBA. Ron Hunter said R.J. just needs to see a few going in and the results will come. When you’re leading scorer can’t score, the offense tends to slow down.
The problem is when Hunter can’t get his shot off, the Panthers’ half-court offense sometimes devolves into Harrow trying to beat someone off the dribble, or Markus Crider trying to beat someone out of the high post. Points do sometimes come from other places, but those are usually the two starting points. That’s where the absences of White and Atkins are being most noticeably felt this year. It’s also why Kevin Ware needs to become a more consistent offensive threat. If he can get to the basket and draw defenders to him, it should leave kick-out possibilities for R.J. Hunter to shoot 3-pointers.
If any team plays a soft zone with no man-to-man elements against Georgia State the rest of the season I’ll be stunned. Coach Ron Hunter has to figure out a way, or some plays, to get his son that split-second he needs. The past two games nothing is consistently working.
For the season, Hunter is averaging 19.5 points and is shooting 40 percent, but 28.2 percent on 3-pointers.
The zone defense. On the other side of the equation are the zone defenses that Georgia State prefers to use.
I’ve written about this a few times but it continues to stand out.
Texas State hit nine 3-pointers against it on Monday. Three of them cost the Panthers the game: two at the end of regulation and the banked shot to force the second overtime.
You can say that any of those were lucky. I would disagree on the first two because I’ve seen teams hit those shots many times against the Panthers. Ron Hunter knows more about basketball than I’ll ever know. But I do know that to keep doing the same thing over, and to continue to see other teams hit those bombs, has got to be frustrating.
Now, it can’t be too bad if the Panthers went 17-1 last year in the conference, can it? Perhaps not.
But smart coaches and players know where to find the holes in the zone and they know the combination of passes and movement to put their shooters in the right places at the right time. Texas State just did it. Louisiana-Lafayette will try to do so on Thursday.
The solution is to either play the zone better, switch to man-to-man (which Hunter isn’t going to do) or play the percentages and hope opponents miss. The problem with the final option is opponents are getting decent looks against Georgia State’s zone.
Finishing games. I asked Ron Hunter last night if this team has a problem finishing games. The Panthers had the game won in regulation and had it won again in the first overtime, only for Texas State to tie it each time.
Of course, my thoughts went back to the championship game in last year’s Sun Belt tournament when the Panthers coughed up an 11-point in the final six minutes to Louisiana-Lafayette.
I was also thinking about losses to Colorado State and Old Dominion earlier this year.
Ron Hunter said he didn’t think the team had a problem, pointing to close wins at Oakland and IUPUI earlier this year as evidence.
The only problem is Georgia State is more talented than either of those teams. Those games shouldn’t have been close. Yes, the Panthers were on the road, but talent is talent.
Perhaps that’s part of Georgia State’s problem right now. All the talent hasn’t quite meshed into a team.