Continuing the trend of slow starts and strong finishes, Georgia State use its depth and defense to shake free of Southern Poly for a 86-58 victory on Saturday at the Sports Arena.
Whether mentally tired from a week’s worth of finals, or perhaps overlooking their NAIA-level opponent, the Panthers (5-4) had a two-point lead at the half and didn’t seem to become fully engaged in the game until the second half in which they held the Hornets to 23 points.
“The second half if the kind of energy and defense we should be playing,” coach Ron Hunter said. “We won’t make excuses for why we didn’t want to play in the first half defensively. We acted like we were still taking finals, which we are.”
R.J. Hunter and Devonta White led the Panthers on offense. Hunter scored 21 points, including eight in the decisive run. White added 16 points and four assists, including a no-look pass to James Vincent that led to a dunk that got the team and crowd fired up with 15:26 left in the second half. Ryann Green and Vincent gave the team energy on defense.
“His (Vincent) energy was incredible,” Hunter said. “Same as Ryann. We’ve just got to get everybody else on the same page.”
Southern Poly (5-5) played in Greenville, S.C. Friday night. As a result, they dressed just eight players on Saturday. But they ignored tired legs and got all the offense the needed early on 3-point shooting from Chase Robinson, who poured in 19 points with five 3-pointers in the first half. Averaging 11.3 points this season, he led all scorers with 27 points.
But those shots dried up in the half. After the Hornets hit nine of their 20 3-point attempts in the first half, they hit just three of 11 in the second to finish with a 38.7 percentage.
Those hot hands kept the game interesting early.
Each time Georgia State would open up a slim lead in the first half, Southern Poly would answer with a 3-pointer. Devon Butler gave Southern Poly a 35-34 lead with less than 20 seconds remaining in the half before Hunter answered to give the Panthers a 37-35 lead at the half.
Hunter started Georgia State’s scoring in the second half with a 3-pointer, followed by a jumper to give the Panthers a 42-40 lead. White added consecutive baskets before Hunter hit another 3-pointer to give the Panthers a nine-point advantage.
“I think we settled down a little bit,” R.J. Hunter said. “I don’t know what it is. We kind of regrouped. We knew we had to play better. We just came out and took better shots.”
White then got the crowd into the game by driving down the lane and dropping off a pass to Vincent, who attacked down the baseline. He caught the ball and put in a two-handed dunk to give Georgia State a 51-40 lead. The Hornets weren’t able to get within nine points the rest of the game.
“I hadn’t had one since the first four games,” Vincent said of his dunk. “I felt like if I could get one everybody would get hyped up. It did work.”
Notes: Forward LaRon Smith, expected to redshirt this season, saw his first action. He played three minutes. Hunter said he wanted to re-evaluate the team after eight games, and he decided he wasn’t happy with the play from the centers. … Hunter was honored before the game after picking up his 300th win in last week’s victory over Liberty. He received a basketball that he said will go in his office with some others he has earned during his career. … New football coach Trent Miles, who was introduced on Monday, spoke at halftime. He signed autographs after the game.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu