Georgia State (19-7, 10-3) is coming off a heartbreaking 90-82 overtime loss to Louisiana Monroe, their first loss of 2018. The Panthers have been uncharacteristically sloppy defensively and have just right the matchup in rival Georgia Southern (16-10, 7-6) to refocus.
Back to the basics
Hunter demands great attention on defense and has been visibly upset on the sidelines when it hasn’t been there. The loss to the team with the fourth-worst Sun Belt Conference record is a wake up call— just in time before traveling to face “That Team Down South”.
“If they need any motivation for that [game] then we’ve got the wrong kids. At the end of the day, you’re fighting, so we gotta come back and get back at it Monday in practice,” Hunter said. “One thing that I don’t like is the last few games we’ve improved offensively, but we’ve slid a little bit defensively. We’re gonna start getting back at it defensively so we can get ourselves back to who we are. Sometimes you can get happy with your offense and you let the defense slide.”
It’s even more important that the Panthers mend their defensive issues because they did not face Tookie Brown (19 p/g and 4 a/g) in January’s 83-66 win over the Eagles. Georgia Southern was not the same team without Brown, and had very little explosiveness. The Eagles shot a dismal 33.8 percent shooting against some of Georgia State’s best defense of the season.
However, the Panthers’ defense has been falling for the past month according to Hunter. Their high performance from three-point land was a mask— until they went cold against Louisiana Monroe.
“We had a lot of shots that we normally make, that we just missed. We’re a jump-shooting team and when you get into our legs, our defense has to step up. That’s what’s been great all year for us,” Hunter said.
Panthers aren’t the only ones looking to find themselves
That wasn’t the case last Saturday for neither State nor Southern. The Eagles allowed Louisiana to score 102 points. Coincidentally, both teams lost dramatic overtime games to Louisiana Monroe last week as well.
The Eagles are in freefall of their own while on a three-game losing streak— they desperately need a win. With conference tournament seeding still to play for, a recovery is exactly what Georgia Southern needs.
This will make for a tough atmosphere inside Hanner Fieldhouse, where the Panthers haven’t won since 1996. With no momentum for either team, the home-field advantage could prove huge.
However, if Georgia State is locked in how they were in January against the Eagles, points will be tough to come by.
Bad news for Southern is D’Marcus Simonds is coming off a career week (61 points, 21 rebounds ad 13 assists). This is especially notable considering they did not have an answer for him in the first matchup. Simonds nearly left the arena with a triple-double, finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
More than a rivalry game
Southern sits well-below Georgia State in the standings, but now is the time to patch up issues before the conference tournament begins in March. Hunter needs his team in a groove to maximize their chances of taking home the title.
“I’ve said it before, one team in the Sun Belt is going to the NCAA Tournament. One,” Hunter said.
This is more than just a rivalry game. The Panthers should understand the time to slap a bandage over their woes is now. They’ve allowed a staggering 182 points in their last two games— more points than the previous three games combined. Georgia State is still first in the Sun Belt in defensive shooting percentage, and it’d be shocking to see their careless effort continue much longer.
Georgia State faces Georgia Southern on Friday, Feb. 18 ESPN2 at 9 P.M. EST. A solid outing could make a good impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee in regards to seeding, should Georgia State win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.