I confess: I thought Georgia State was done

R.J. Hunter hugs his mother, Amy, and sister, Jasmine after leading Georgia State past Baylor on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. (AP)

R.J. Hunter hugs his mother, Amy, and sister, Jasmine after leading Georgia State past Baylor on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. (AP)

I’ll admit it: I thought Georgia State had lost.

I had the first version of the story written before R.J. Hunter went berserk with nine consecutive points after the Panthers had fallen behind by 12 in the final 2:50, and then had his “One Shining Moment” moment by drilling a 30-foot 3-pointer to lift No. 14 Georgia State past No. 3 Baylor 57-56 on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Here is that version, with x’s where I would go and fill in the stats as soon as the final stats were available:

Undone by offensive rebounds and an inability to gets its scorers going quickly enough, Georgia State fell to Baylor xx-xx in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.

R.J. Hunter and Kevin Ware, who combined to score 27.5 points per game this season, totaled xx. Hunter, the Sun Belt player of the year for the second consecutive year, finished with xx on xx-of-xx shooting. He scored nine consecutive points in the final three minutes to turn a comfortable win for Baylor into a close game.

Ryann Green scored xx points to lead the Panthers, who were making their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2001.

Georgia State’s (24-10) offense was also without senior Ryan Harrow (strained hamstring), the team’s leading scorer during the regular season with 20.2 points per game.

As a result, the Panthers had one field goal in a pivotal 10-minute stretch in the second half in which a one-point lead turned into a 12-point deficit with 2:54 left.

On defense, Georgia State couldn’t keep the bigger, stronger Bears from getting second chances. Baylor outrebounded the Panthers, xx-xx, including xx on the offensive end.

Now, in my defense, I’ve shared the story about me writing that Georgia State had Louisiana-Lafayette beaten in the finals of the last year’s Sun Belt tournament, only to see the opposite of what happened on Thursday.

I shared that with R.J. Hunter after the game. He just laughed.

So, one again it shows you what I know.

Here are two more things I learned:

Defense, defense, defense. I will also share that I have criticized Ron Hunter’s intransigence in using a zone defense with no thought to ever mixing in man to man, especially when there have been games in which the zone has been torched.

Well, in the past half of this season Georgia State’s defense has gotten things figured out. Baylor didn’t score in the final 2-plus minutes on Thursday. It’s not that they didn’t have opportunities. Rico Gathers, the biggest college basketball player I’ve seen this year, couldn’t muscle in a dunk in the final 30 seconds that would have ended the rally. T.J. Shipes, who weighs 35 pounds less than the 275-pound Gathers, got just enough of the ball going up to cause him to miss.

Georgia State’s defense again gave up 3-pointers in the corner, but it pretty much shot down 3-pointers everywhere else on the court. It gave up a ton of offensive rebounds, but the Bears could only convert all those second chances into 12 second-chance points, which is the same as what Georgia State had.

Plus, Georgia State forced a season-high 21 turnovers from the Bears, who really didn’t have a good explanation after the game why they couldn’t hold onto the ball.

The unsung heroes. Every time Ryann Green took a shot on Thursday I shook my head thinking that’s not the shot Georgia State wanted. Green is known for his defense.

Once again, shows what I know.

Green scored a career-high 11 points by drilling three 3-pointers. Green, a senior, is an outstanding story. He walked on to the team as a freshman. He barely played, but eventually earned a starting spot as a junior and a scholarship. He was in tears toward the end of Thursday’s game, causing Kevin Ware to good-naturedly call him a “punk” after the game.

Isaiah Dennis, who I joked on twitter may have made five jumpers all season, hit a big one from the baseline and caused all sorts of problems for Baylor with his athleticism on defense.He is also an outstanding story. He was going to play last year until a foot injury sidelined him for the whole year. He has been fearless the past few games. He had no hesitation about driving into the teeth of Baylor’s defense and trying to draw a foul or using his incredible leaping ability to make layups.

Markus Crider, whose team this will undoubtedly be should R.J. Hunter leave for the NBA after this season, kept the offense going early and finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

Dennis, Green and Crider kept the Panthers in the game in the first half because Hunter and Kevin Ware combined to score just four points.

So, that shows you what I know. What did you learn?


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