Men’s Basketball: Finishing the unfinished business

The Georgia State Panthers were locked in an overtime battle for the Sun Belt Championship with rival Louisiana-Lafayette.

Ryan Harrow was on an electrifying, emotional tear that was capturing the nationwide audience that tuned for the classic ball game that had developed on ESPN.
Harrow was trending on Twitter during his monumental effort that day. He looked as though he was poised to carry his team into the NCAA Tournament with his father in the stands.

The story developing was captivating and seemed headed for a fairy tale ending.

The Panthers had fallen down three with 28 seconds remaining the game. Harrow made a layup and brought Georgia State within one point of the Ragin Cajuns.

Then, they quickly fouled and UL-Lafayette had a one and one from the foul line and missed the free throw. Georgia State got to set up one play that would decide their fate for the season and there was no secret as to whose hands that responsibility would be placed in: Ryan Harrow.

He took the last shot and was unsuccessful. Harrow and the Panthers were rejected and had to watch as the Ragin’ Cajuns ran on the floor to accept a trophy and a tournament bid that they fought so hard to earn all season through their magical 14-game winning streak.

Georgia State did receive a bid to play in the NIT last season where they fell to Clemson in the first round. But the team had done so many good things throughout 2014 that it was meant to end in an NCAA Tournament appearance.

The loss in the Sun Belt championship last year left the Panthers hungry for better and rightly so. The team went on a tear, winning a school record 14 straight games during last season. The team has what can be argued to be one of the best point guards in the country. And a future potential NBA draft pick in R.J. Hunter.

Those are the ingredients for a successful team that should contend for championships and should strive to achieve that. When a team has the talent that Georgia State has and does not accomplish what it should, the team have the right to be upset when those goals aren’t met.

Unfinished business

The Panthers took the pain of coming up short of the NCAA tournament and turned it into motivation, hunger and a momentum builder for the 2014-15 season.

The slogan “Unfinished Business” can be seen plastered across the team’s schedule along with a meaner more aggressive theme for the faces on the promotional flyers for this season: Harrow, Hunter, Kevin Ware and Curtis Washington. This sends the message that this year’s team was going to be more business-oriented to achieving their goal: the NCAA Tournament.

The expectations were even raised following last year. Georgia State brought back the top two leading scorers in Harrow and Hunter on top of adding an elite defender from a championship pedigree in Ware who transferred from Louisville.

The team had the ingredients to once again to be amongst the Sun Belt’s best. Georgia State had the momentum, the talent and all that was left was to get the season kicked off. The regular season opener showed the fireworks the Panthers were capable of, scoring 115 points to blow Tennessee Temple off the floor to open the season.

The Panthers’ season this year has not been the fairy tale of last season to this point. There has not been a long sustained winning streak. There have been multiple lineup tweaks throughout the year and players have fought through a few bumps and bruises along the way.

Georgia State is even without the full complement of talent that was expected as freshman Jeff Thomas was ruled ineligible before ever seeing the floor in game action. Thomas was expected to be a key contributor to this year’s team and could have been the needed third scorer to replace Manny Atkins in the lineup from the 2014 squad.

Despite the bumpier road of 2014-15, the team still has managed a 21-9 record thus far. The Panthers are still at the top of the conference and perceived as one of the better teams.

Georgia State is in good place and appear to be peaking late in the season as they are now getting healthy. Players are settled into their roles and the lineup is being settled.

It is time.

It is March.

This is the time of the year the Panthers had in mind when they began workouts after the loss in the Sun Belt tournament last season and why they have remained calm throughout the regular season.

Georgia State will again be a high seed in the Sun Belt tournament. Now is the time to come full circle and makeup for last season’s shortcoming.

The Panthers have a lot of the same players, but this is a very different team. The team is much more experienced and have seen almost everything college basketball has to offer. The team is just as deep as last season, playing as many as nine players regularly.

And the team also has an X-factor: The toughness of T.J. Shipes off the bench paired with Curtis Washington.

The pair of big men could make a difference and would allow the Panthers to combat players like Shawn Long who pounded Georgia State for 14 rebounds in the championship game last season and win the all-important rebounding battle.

The team is finally taking its true shape after all the in-season tinkering. The only question is, will the Panthers get it done this time? They have the ability. They are hungry. They have the experience and the pain of defeat.

Those questions will be answered soon. As the Sun Belt Tournament is here and it is time for the Panthers to get their payback.