By Stan Awtrey
For the AJC
Georgia State’s basketball team was feeling pretty good about itself after winning three straight in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic prior to Thanksgiving. But Monday night, the Panthers learned from experienced East Carolina that they remain a work in progress.
Georgia State (3-3) struggled against the bigger, stronger and more experienced Pirates and dropped a 62-53 decision at the GSU Sports Arena. The Panthers play Friday at home against Louisiana Tech.
“One thing my team is not ready for is tough, older, experienced teams,” said Georgia State coach Ron Hunter. “We’re not going to be able to rush that. That was an experienced basketball team. I told my team that you can win games by being tough and nasty on the road and that’s what they did.”
Georgia State was dominated on the glass. East Carolina, an upper-tier team from Conference USA, outrebounded the Panthers 47-26. Georgia State had only five offensive rebounds.
East Carolina’s 6-foot-8 junior Robert Sampson, an Atlanta native and son of former NBA star Ralph Sampson, had 16 rebounds, 12 points and three blocks. Maurice Kemp, a 6-8 senior, had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Pirates.
“My boys played men tonight,” Hunter said. “My 18- and 19-year-olds got beat by 21- and 22-year-old men. I knew that eight minutes into the game. I was just hoping we could make some shots to offset it but if we weren’t going to make any shots, I didn’t think we had much of a chance.”
They didn’t make nearly enough. Georgia State shot 38 percent for the game, with Manny Atkins scoring 15 and Devonta White scoring 13. Georgia State was 0-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first half and made only 4-of-18.
The performance was disappointing for Hunter, whose team was riding a three-game winning streak.
“This is a growing pain that a young team has to go through, especially when they’ve had success,” Hunter said. “That’s the hardest thing for young people to do, is to handle success. We’ve had three great games and we rested on our laurels. It bothered me because they’re a veteran basketball team that’s hungry and we’ve got another one coming up on Friday.”
East Carolina (5-0) opened the game with an 8-0 flurry and watched Georgia State scrap its way back into it at 15-14. The Panthers had two chances to take the lead, but missed a 3-pointer and had the ball stolen. Given a second chance, East Carolina reeled off nine straight points to make it 24-14. The Pirates continued to pile it on in the first half and a thunderous dunk by Ty Anderson gave them a 31-17 lead.
Georgia State got as close as 46-38 in the second half on a layup by Markus Crider, but the Pirates responded with an 8-1 run to dash any hopes of a comeback.
“You can’t rush experience,” Hunter said. “It has to happen naturally. Our guys have been on a fast track. Experience is something you can’t recruit. Experience is something that takes time.”