Amidst all the helter-skelter of Georgia State’s offense and defense is the serenity of Jihad Ali.
As bodies fly up and down the court in coach Ron Hunter’s up-tempo offense and hyper-aggressive matchup zone defenses, Ali’s face rarely changes expression.
He’s moved from the starting lineup, to the bench, and back to the starting lineup and his production has remained constant.
He’s averaging 12.2 points, second on the team, and 5.1 rebounds per game, tied for second, as the Panthers play in the last in a brutal three-game stretch against Georgia Mason (11-4, 3-0) on Saturday. Another win, the team’s 12th consecutive, would stamp the Panthers (11-3, 3-0) as the team to beat in the CAA this season.
Will Ali’s expression change?
“I try to get him to talk louder,” Hunter said. “He’s very low-key, very intellingent. He’s the opposite of Ron Hunter.”
Ali is the go-to presence for a team that has two consistent jump-shooters: and sophomore Devonta White. When the team is in a drought, Ali usually gets the ball.
“Just being a senior, the other guys might look at me like a leader,” he said. “We just stay focused and it feeds to the younger guys.”
Georgia State led VCU 48-39 in the second half on Wednesday, only to see the Rams cut the lead to 48-44 over the next two minutes. A minute later, after three minutes with no points for the Panthers, Ali hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 51-44.
Ali is hitting 41.7 percent of his shots, and 35.5 percent of his 3-pointers. But he’s more than just a jump-shooter. He’s skilled on the block and a sneaky good rebounder who often finds creases in defenses to pull down rebounds and hit putbacks.
“We have excellent points guards who give me the ball when I can score and operate,” Ali said. “[Eric] Buckner does an excellent job of [helping] our shooters. It’s more of a team effort.”
About George Mason:
Most Atlanta folks know that the Patriots are led by former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt. They were picked in the preseason to finish second in the CAA, and may have been picked to finish first if not for the disruptions that coaching changes sometimes cause.
GMU defeated Old Dominion 63-54 in Norfolk on Thursday. ODU is a tough place to play, so that was an impressive win for Hewitt and his team.
The Patriots’ fortunes hinge on Ryan Pearson, who leads the team with 18.7 points per game. GMU leads the CAA with 71.1 points per game, less than a point more than the Panthers.
Though I’m a stat-wonk, I’ll simply link to the CAA site if you want to go over more of that data.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu