Playing its fourth game in seven days, Georgia State was inefficient on offense and ineffective on defense in a 76-67 loss at Appalachian State on Thursday.
The Mountaineers hit 12-of-26 3-pointers, the most made by a Georgia State opponent this season, to defeat the Panthers for the second consecutive season in Boone.
Georgia State will take a week off before an important two-game road trip to Arkansas State on Jan. 28 and Arkansas-Little Rock on Jan. 30. Should the Panthers (12-5, 5-3) lose to what are now the Sun Belt’s top two teams, they will be in a fight for the fourth-place spot in the conference with 10 games remaining before the tournament.
Here are three observations about the game based upon listening to the radio broadcast.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not only were the Panthers playing their fourth game in a week, they were coming off the low of the blowout loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday and the high of rallying to defeat Georgia Southern in the next game on Tuesday.
It would have been a lot to ask for the Panthers to have the same energy, especially after going to overtime on Tuesday and then taking the 7-hour bus ride to Boone, even if there was a stop in Charlotte.
Plus, they were playing a team that is good at shooting 3-pointers, which is an Achilles’ heel for the defense.
Having said that…
The offense has issues, lots of issues. Coach Ron Hunter acknowledged on Tuesday that the team isn’t the best on offense. A team can offset that by rebounding well on both ends to maximize its offensive possessions and minimize its opponent’s possessions. It can also force turnovers, limit its turnovers, and play good 3-point defense.
When it has lost this year, Georgia State hasn’t done many of those things. Those things happened again on Saturday and again against Appalachian State. I’ll get to the defensive aspects of that theory in the next section.
How to fix an offense that is among the worst in Division I? It may be time for Hunter to break his habit of not playing freshman and let Jeff Thomas just have at it and see what happens. The freshman is the only theoretically reliable 3-point shooter on a team that doesn’t have a low-post threat, doesn’t have a player that can consistently score off the dribble (Isaiah Dennis’ career-high 18-point performance on Tuesday notwithstanding) and, other than Thomas, doesn’t have a consistent 3-point shooter.
The Panthers shot better than 40 percent against Appalachian but many of those baskets came after the Mountaineers opened up a big enough lead to secure the outcome long before the final whistle.
If Thomas plays and is making shots, it will stretch the defense and should allow Dennis, Markus Crider, Kevin Ware and Jeremy Hollowell some space inside. Ware and Hollowell’s scoring have started to decrease the past three games because teams know if they pack the lane and force them to shoot from outside the offense will grind down. Ware missed 6-of-8 to finish 11 points and Hollowell missed 5-of-8 to finish with 10 points on Thursday.
In the past three games, Hollowell is 9-of-26 and Ware 12-of-29.
Georgia State didn’t help itself with 15 turnovers, offsetting Appalachian’s 22.
Why do I think this will work? Because it’s what opponents are doing to Georgia State.
The troubles on defense. Hunter likes his zone defenses because he wants opponents to shoot 3-pointers. But when the Panthers face a team that has players that hit 3-pointers, a team like Appalachian that is the best 3-point shooting team in the Sun Belt, it doesn’t seem like there is a plan B. In the past, Georgia State could play the percentages (the other team would start missing) and out score them with R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow. The percentages caught up against Georgia Southern, for example.
The Mountaineers’ 12 3-pointers came after Georgia Southern hit six in the first half and finished with nine, which came a game after Louisiana-Lafayette tied the then-season high by hitting 11 3’s.
Hunter said the players were missing defensive assignments against the Cajuns and in the first half against the Eagles. I assume some of that, combined with tired legs, happened against Appalachian State.
The problem is Georgia State has to face each of those teams again, as well as Texas-Arlington, which used eights 3s to defeat Georgia State 85-70 earlier this season.
When opponents are hitting 3s, it opens up the inside for offensive rebounding and the Mountaineers dominated Georgia State, 39-29, including 10 offensive rebounds.
That’s two out of the past three games that Georgia State has been outrebounded by at least 10. Georgia State turned that around against Georgia Southern.
When teams are hitting 3s, and Georgia Sate isn’t rebounding well, it makes it that much harder for its stressed offense to come up with enough points to complete rallies. The Panthers were able to do so against Georgia Southern, but the Eagles are an inexperienced team.