Basketball Column: The Panthers’ road struggles may not be that bad

Georgia State men’s basketball is 2-5 this season in games played away from the Sports Arena. But things may not be as bad as the record may indicate on the road.

If one uses their eyes to only see the stats and the end results of the five games the Panthers dropped, they will miss some of the story that has Georgia State remaining optimistic about what they can accomplish this season.

The Panthers have faced some of their toughest opponents on the road this season, which was the intent of Head Coach Ron Hunter.

Competition
The road slate started off with Iowa State which was the 14th ranked team in the nation at the time.Georgia State fell to the Cyclones 81-58 in that game. But even the score is deceiving when looking at how competitive the Panthers were in a hostile environment against a top-tier opponent. The Panthers held a 21-20 lead in the first half against Iowa State before a second half run blew the game open.

The next road test came against Colorado State, a team that is currently 15-2 this season and could very well be on the way to an NCAA tournament berth themselves. This too was a deceiving loss for the Panthers. Georgia State held a 20-9 lead early in the first half. They also had a lead late before Colorado State sparked off a 14-0 run to all but close the game.

The third road loss came to the 13-2 Old Dominion Monarchs in overtime. The Panthers played another top-tier opponent to a very close game and just came up short. Similar can be said about losses to Green Bay, a team the Panthers defeated handily at home by a final of 72-48, and conference rival Louisiana-Lafayette.

These losses all have one thing in common: Georgia State played well for stretches but came up just a little short even though they had leads.

The Panthers are still trying to figure out how to close out games. But they are confident in their ability to figure it out in time for March and the Sun Belt Tournament.

“It’s more focus and we play the first 10 minutes and we’re on. And then it’s just like we get tired or we lose focus. So I think once we figure that 40 minutes out we’ll be unbeatable,” junior guard R.J. Hunter said of his team’s close road loses.

Timing
The Panthers also have time on their side. The tough competition and road tests are getting them ready for the big prize at the end of the season.

Georgia State is also taking a game-by-game approach to the season and simply getting themselves on track.

“You just take everything game-by-game and minute-by-minute. You don’t worry about that. Anything that happens, that’s for everybody else to talk about. We just want to worry about the next game. Don’t worry if it’s home or road. You just want to worry about winning the next one. If you start thinking about other stuff, then you’re already defeated,” Head Coach Ron Hunter said of the team’s approach to the upcoming schedule.

The season is only really getting kicked off as it is just right at the halfway mark of the season.

Building a Crescendo
The Panthers were dominant for most of last season as they won 25 games and finished 17-1 in the Sun Belt. Ultimately, they fell short in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game and missed the NCAA tournament.

Georgia State is hungry for the conference championship as well as that automatic NCAA tournament berth and want to be sure they are ready when the time comes for them to really be ready to claim their prize.

“Really, we’re just concerned about finishing games. You don’t have to be good at that until March. We’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s a long season. I think last season we probably figured it out too early so it’s all a process,” R.J. Hunter said.

The road tests have provided the Panthers with some solid experiences as to how to react in certain type of atmospheres. Georgia State has now seen almost every type of environment college basketball can offer and that gives them confidence for later that they have been there and done that.

“It definitely helps. Because we’ve seen every type of atmosphere from Iowa State to Oakland to nobody being there. We’ve seen every type of atmosphere in every situation so when it comes to conference it shouldn’t be a problem,” R.J. Hunter said.

The Panthers’ most recent road test came when they traveled to Boone, North Carolina to face Appalachian State on Jan. 17. Their next matchup on the road will be at Jonesboro, Arkansas to face Arkansas State on Jan. 19.

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