Basketball clinches Sun Belt tournament spot

Photo by Chris Shattuck Students lift Ryan Harrow up as the Panthers win 12-consecutive game.

Georgia State is on the cusp of madness.

The men’s basketball team clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Conference tournament with its win over Texas State last week.

However, clinching a spot in the single-elimination tournament held in New Orleans is not nearly enough security for Head Coach Ron Hunter’s team.

The way the conference tournament is set up, eight of the ten conference teams play in a bracket. The bottom four teams play in the first round to advance to the quarter-finals.

The No. 3 and 4 seeds get an automatic bye and don’t play until the quarterfinals, and the No. 1 and 2 seeds get two byes and don’t play until the semifinals. In other words, the top two seeds only need to win two games to be crowned Sun Belt Champions.

Georgia State’s magic number from claiming one of the top two seeds is one. They either need to win one more game or rely on Western Kentucky (No. 2 in the Sun Belt) to lose, putting the Panthers straight into the semi-finals.

“The season is a long season, and you’ve got to have short goals,” Hunter said. “We’re at the end, and we feel like we’ve got two seasons to go. We’ve got to clinch this season…and then we have postseason.”

“We want to be able to hang a banner in our first year of the Sun Belt,” Hunter said, explaining how it’s been a goal of the team all season.

The Panthers have four games remaining in the regular season: three on the road followed by one final home game against Western Kentucky to end the regular season.

Three games on the road are tough for any team of any caliber of talent, but Hunter said the road games are nothing new.

“We’ve been great on the road. We’ve actually played better on the road,” Hunter said, saying his team just needs time off to rest after a full week of games.

“We’ve been doing it for so long, this is nothing new for us,” Manny Atkins said on the upcoming road trip, calling it the team’s business.

The Panthers have been busy with four games crammed into eight days. After losing to Troy 85-81 on the road, ending the longest winning streak in school history, Georgia State defeated Texas State last Monday 68-41.

They then defeated Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette to continue to rebuild the momentum they had going during the streak.

“Four games in eight days is tough; it’s a hard thing to do,” Hunter said adding he was proud of his team for their effort.

In three of those games, one of Georgia State’s starters were able to reach 1,000 career points.

R.J. Hunter reached 1,000 on the road—versus Troy doing it in just 54 games—and became the second-fastest player to reach 1,000 at Georgia State behind Phillip Luckydo, who did it in 49 games in 1992.

Ryan Harrow and Manny Atkins were able to reach the milestone at home, and both happened to be made on a free-throw causing chants of “That’s 1,000” roar through the Arena.

“When they said that when I was at the free-throw line, I thought I was going to miss my next free-throw,” Harrow said. “You have four guys who have scored 1,000 points, but none of us are selfish players.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if I’ll ever coach that again, and not many guys can say that you’re coaching four 1,000-point scorers in the same year,” Hunter said.

Georgia State is currently one of three teams with four starters with 1,000 career points. The other schools are Elon and North Dakota State.