The theme of the 2014-15 season was “Unfinished Business.” On Saturday at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Georgia State men’s basketball took care of business with a 38-36 victory over in-state rival Georgia Southern.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” head coach Ron Hunter said after the game. “First thing I told them before the game is nothing has come easy for us. Nothing. It’s been a struggle all year and it’s supposed to be a struggle.”
R.J. Hunter also reflected on the enormity of the team’s accomplishment after the game.
“I said to Kevin [Ware] we just did something that we won’t even know how big it is,” he said. “The football team is struggling and we haven’t really been a good basketball team since the ‘Lefty’ [Driesell] days. And now we’re about to see who we’ll be playing in the NCAA tournament.”
Ware, in a nationally televised matchup on ESPN2 finished with 18 of the Panthers’ 38 points.
“[Ware] has been through a lot,” Ron Hunter said. “Publically breaking his leg [two years ago]. It was a struggle for him. I am so happy for him. He’s an unbelievable kid and he deserved that. He deserved that moment.”
The game’s first points did not come until over three minutes in when Hunter drained a three-pointer, giving Georgia State a 3-0 lead. The next Eagles possession saw redshirt senior forward Eric Ferguson make one of two from the line after Kevin Ware fouled him.
Freshman Georgia Southern guard Jake Allsmiller then fouled Ware as he converted a fastbreak layup into two points. Ware made the free throw, increasing the Panthers’ early lead to 6-1.
Freshman guard Mike Hughes later converted a layup, trimming the Eagles deficit to 6-3. T.J. Shipes made it a four-point game at 7-3 after Hughes fouled him.
Ware later made a jump shot, extending the Panther lead to 9-3 prior to redshirt senior guard Jelani Hewitt making his first three, cutting Georgia Southern’s deficit to 9-6.
Hunter and Ware each scored two-pointers, growing the Georgia State lead to 13-6 prior to Ferguson’s first three, making it a 13-9 game. Hewitt’s second three further trimmed the deficit to 13-12.
With the score at 15-14 in the Panthers’ favor, Ware upped his point output to 11 as the Panthers’ lead became 17-14, prompting a Georgia Southern timeout.
Markus Crider’s first two points grew the Panthers’ lead to 19-14 prior to redshirt senior forward Trent Wiedeman cutting through Georgia State defenders to the basket, making it a 19-16 heading into halftime.
Curtis Washington scored a layup that came off a Crider missed jumper, upping the Georgia State lead to 21-16. Freshman Eagles guard Jake Allsmiller responded with an open three, making it a 21-19 game. Crider later made four straight points, giving the Panthers a 25-19 lead.
Georgia State’s lead stayed at six with scores of 27-21 and 29-23. Wiedeman drew a foul on Hunter–his third with over 12 minutes remaining–and made two free throws, cutting the Eagles deficit to 29-25. Hughes later made a three for a 5-0 Georgia Southern run and a 29-28 score.
Sophomore Eagles forward Kyle Doyle gave his team a 30-29 lead prior to Ware making his first three, increasing his point output to 18 and giving the Panthers a 32-30 lead with 8:53 remaining.
With 8:11 left, Hewitt drew Hunter’s fourth foul, then made two free throws, tying the game at 32.
The Panthers and Eagles would tie again at 34 apiece and 36 apiece. Hunter, with 21 seconds left, made two free throws, giving the Panthers a two-point lead.
Georgia Southern attempted a pair of game-winning threes, but missed both. Moments later, Georgia State was crowned Sun Belt champions.
In the postgame celebration, Ron Hunter injured his achilles. He described his level of pain as a 17 on a scale of one to 10, but also said that he was embarrassed as it took away from what the team accomplished.