Simonds’ decision to return and women’s coaching search leaves wonder inside basketball programs

A few changes are coming to the men’s and women’s basketball teams, such as new coaches and possible new players. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Men’s Basketball

The 2017-2018 men’s basketball season for the Georgia State Panthers was many things, but perhaps one word that describes this year best is fun. The regular season and the 10-game winning streak was fun. The three games the Panthers dominated on their way to a Sun Belt tournament victory were fun. Even the loss in the NCAA Tournament game against Cincinnati, which displayed a red-hot D’Marcus Simonds who scored 16 straight points, was fun.

The 2017 portion of the Panthers’ season had its ups and downs; the team went 9-6 over November and December, accounting for more than half of their losses. This stretch included losses to both conference opponents they faced, South Alabama and Troy.

However, once 2018 rolled around, the Panthers caught fire. From Jan. 4 – Feb. 8, the Panthers went undefeated and took control of the Sun Belt Conference, winning 10 straight games. These games all came against Sun Belt opponents and were highlighted by a convincing 83-66 win over Georgia Southern that came at the midway point of the streak. Following the 10-game winning streak, the Panthers would only go 2-4 to close the season, but their previous work was enough to earn them the 2 seed in the Sun Belt tournament.

In the Sun Belt Championship, the Panthers were on a level of their own. The team knocked off Troy by 22 points, Georgia Southern by six points and won the tournament with a 13-point victory over 4-seeded UT Arlington. Players like D’Marcus Simonds, Isaiah Williams and Jeff Thomas came alive during the tournament, each leading the team in scoring for a game. D’Marcus Simonds would even go on to be named the MVP of the tournament for his efforts. Hunter and his team savored the victory, sharing numerous net cutting photos to Twitter and giving a very memorable interview to ESPN.

This success was of no surprise to Hunter who said, “Out of all the teams I’ve had, this was probably one of the better teams in regards to talent and doing things together.”

After winning the Sun Belt Championship, the Panthers were onto the the NCAA Tournament where they would be named a 15 seed in the South Region. This matched the team with the 2-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats, who were having a remarkable season going 30-4.

The game started off with an electrifying performance from an emerging superstar in Simonds who stunned the Cincinnati crowd by scoring the first 16 points of the game for the Panthers. The 16-9 lead the team took proved not to be enough to hold off a talented Cincinnati team that went on to defeat the Panthers 68-53.

Looking Forward

Hunter made sure to note that this was not a heartbreaker for the team, but a step in the right direction, adding that “the next step is to go there and play well.”

The 2018-2019 season looks bright for the Panthers who will be returning the majority of their starting lineup, and should Simonds choose to return for his junior year, the future will be even brighter.

Women’s Basketball

The Georgia State women’s basketball team had a season filled with disappointment, and underachieving. The Panthers had another losing season, one in which they only won eight games, and it resulted in a coaching change Sharon Baldwin’s contract won’t be renewed. The team finished with a record of 8-22.

Overall in her tenure, Baldwin was an underwhelming 88-162, but there was still some shock among her players when the news originally broke.

“Hearing that the lady who made all your dreams come true is devastating news. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities she’s created for me to grow academically and as a player,” Newby said.

There was some optimism coming into the season. Jada Lewis won conference freshman of the year in 2017, and was primed to have to have a big season, along with the return of point guard Madison Newby, who missed the 2016-17 season due to injury.  The team also brought in several transfers who were eligible to play this season, Shay Fluker, Janessa Murphy, Victoria Middlebrooks and Juliet James.

The Panthers started their season 4-6, but it went downhill from there. The injury bug bit them once again this season, and that was one of the major themes of Baldwin’s tenure. This season, it was star Jada Lewis who was bitten by the bug, as she suffered a foot injury early in the year and would not return. Also, transfer Shay Fluker was in and out of the lineup with injuries. Those two hurt the team because Lewis is the best player on the team and the leading scorer, and when Fluker did play, she was the second-leading scorer.

Bright Spots

There were some bright spots this season for the Panthers. Newby seemed to return to form after her Achilles injury. She played in 29 of the teams 30 games and averaged 33 minutes per game. Newby also averaged 11.2 points and four assists this season and looks to improve going into next season.

“My season went as good as it could go for me coming off an injury. My doctor told me I wouldn’t be ready, he said I wouldn’t be the same and I believed him,” Newby said.  “And I shocked my family, coaches, teammates and my doctor when I showed up this season playing almost 40 minutes every game.”

A lot will depend on what happens with the new coaching staff, but fans may finally get a chance to see her play alongside Lewis in the backcourt.

Kierra Henry proved herself as a legitimate scoring option this season. Henry averaged 14.2 points per game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. She scored at least 20 points, four times this season and led the team in scoring 13 times.

Murphy also broke out this season averaging 11.8 points in conference play, and shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc.

Looking Forward

There is a lot of uncertainty with no head coach in place and no way of knowing who will be on the roster next season. Whoever the new coach is will inherit a deep and talented roster. The Panthers also add transfers Allison Johnson from Kennesaw State and Walnatia Wright from Texas A&M. Both players had to sit out this past season because of the NCAA’s transfer rule.