Georgia State’s free-throw woes cost it another victory in Tuesday’s 69-67 loss to Southern Miss at the Sports Arena.
An inability to hit from the line in the first half turned what could have been a comfortable win into a close game that the Eagles were able to pull out, taking their first lead with less than three minutes remaining. They held on for the victory when Markus Crider missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Georgia State hit 15 of its 22 free throws, slightly better than its season average of 65.4 percent. But six of its seven misses came in the first half, a game after two missed free throws cost it a chance to tie or beat Troy on Saturday.
“If we made free throws and didn’t turn it over we would have won the game,” coach Ron Hunter said.
R.J. Hunter led the Panthers (5-6) with 24 points, 20 of which came in the first half. Manny Atkins and Devonta White added 13 each. The Panthers’ last two losses have come by three points, both in the game’s final second.
“We’re disappointed because we think we should be beating postseason teams,” Ron Hunter said. “The kids are hurting and I want them to hurt. We want them to feel the pain of losing.”
The last shot wasn’t supposed to go to Crider. He was supposed to take the inbounds, drive and kick the ball out, which was what he did on Georgia State’s previous possession. But he had trouble grabbing the inbounds. After he got control, he threw up the off-balance 3-pointer.
Hunter characterized the decision as a freshman mistake, one of a few made by the team in a performance that otherwise seemed to please the coach.
“That’s the part that I keep talking about … growing pains,” Hunter said. “It’s nothing big. We aren’t for 40 minutes doing the little things. We will; we just aren’t right now.”
After Georgia State led by 11 with 12:25 left in the second half, Southern Miss rallied to take a 65-63 lead on two free throws by Jonathan Mills with 2:21 left.
White hit two free throws to tie the game before Jerrold Brooks hit a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 68-65 lead with 2:03 left. He led the Eagles with 23 points.
White’s layup was blocked on Georgia State’s next possession, giving the Eagles the ball.
But Southern Miss turned it over, giving the Panthers another chance to tie.
R.J. Hunters’ long 3-pointer just missed, but Crider chased down the rebound, batting it to White. Hunter called timeout with 24.4 seconds left.
Crider drove down the lane and hit Atkins in the corner. His 3-pointer rolled around the rim before coming out. Crider tipped it in to cut the Eagles’ lead to 68-67 with 6.8 seconds left.
Hunter fouled Brooks on the inbounds play. He missed the first free throw but hit the second to give the Eagles a 69-67 lead with 5.5 seconds left and set up the final play.
Georgia State will play at Rhode Island on Saturday. Hunter said he may give the team a break either before or after that game because he said they seem like they are “pressing” too much.
“We didn’t win the game but I thought we took a step forward,” coach Ron Hunter said. “We started well, we gave ourselves a chance.”
Ron Hunter on R.J. Hunter’s night:
“We talked the other night and talked about being more aggressive early. He’s wanted to let the game come to him. Right now, he’s our emotional leader. He’s got to take those shots. That’s not what I wanted, but it’s got to change. Forget the age, he’s got to make those plays and he did. At the end, he kind of ran out of gas.”