Coach Ron Hunter came to Atlanta after 17 seasons at IUPUI with a reputation of running a high octane offense that lights up the scoreboard. That was a welcome thought for Panther fans who have battled through the last decade of poor offensive performance from their basketball team. However, early on in his first season, Coach Hunter’s team has instead won games by playing great defense.
That trend continued Thursday night as Georgia State defeated Florida International by holding them to just 47 points on 24.1 percent shooting. The defense has been anchored all season by Eric Buckner in the middle. He did that at a high level again against FIU, blocking a career best 8 shots, 1 short of the school record. The Panthers set a school record for team blocks by blocking 14 shots. Buckner, despite only playing in his second season at GSU, has moved into 6th place all time in school history in blocked shots and currently ranks 5th in the NCAA on the season.
"I am very happy with the way that we are playing defensively right now," said Hunter. "In 18 years, I don't know that I have had a team play like this defensively.”
"Eric is becoming one of the top defensive players in the country," Hunter continued. "He has an incredible ability to block shots that not too many people have. I have been around a long time and have not seen anything like what he is doing right now."
During the current winning streak, GSU opponents are averaging only 49.6 points per game.
Another common theme for Georgia State has been slow starts. That was the case again Thursday night as the Panthers shot just 32 percent from the floor in the first half and were 2 for 13 from behind the arc.
After taking a 10-7 lead with 13:09 left in the first half, the Panthers would miss their next 8 shots and go nearly 5 minutes without scoring a basket to allow FIU to take a 15-10 lead. Rashaad Richardson broke them out of their cold stint with a pair of three-pointers and would set the Panthers on a 17-6 run to end the half.
After taking a 27-21 lead into halftime, Georgia State made some offensive adjustments that would produce one of the better halves of basketball the team has played all season. The Panthers shot 53.6 percent in the second half, including 4 of 10 from behind the arc, while holding FIU to just 18.8 percent shooting. Getting contributions from nearly everyone on the floor, Georgia State would go on to score 46 points in the second half alone. FIU scored 47 points all game.
Richardson would lead the scoring for Georgia State, finishing with 14 points and collecting 4 rebounds. James Fields, Jihad Ali, and Tony Kimbro all came on in the second half and finished with 12, 11, and 9 points, respectively.
One of the features of this team is that they have a lot of players that contribute and do little things to help their team win. Josh Micheaux has shown flashes of that this season, but despite shooting just 1 field goal all game he still managed to get 7 points, all from the free throw line. Devonta White did not have a great night shooting the ball, but still finished with 9 points while playing great defensively and recording 4 steals.
All in all this team is winning, something that Coach Hunter has said all along this team would do, but that it would be a process. He said towards the beginning of the year that this team needs to learn how to win ball games. While they may not be winning the way everyone thought they would, with a high flying offense, they are nonetheless winning games.
"Offensively we are still a work in progress, but that is okay,” Hunter said. “I would rather be where we are defensively and let our offense catch-up with us."
Georgia State wraps-up its stretch of 4 games in eight days this Saturady at 2pm in the Sports Arena. opening up CAA conference play against William & Mary.