For Georgia State hoops, it was a happy and shoeless night

Corner of Decatur & Collins Street, 11:31 a.m., Thursday morning. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The corner of Decatur and Collins, 11:31 a.m. Thursday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

It was a big night for Georgia State basketball, a program that hasn’t known many big nights. The coach went shoeless. His team wore orange. There was a grass-roots attempt to pack the GSU Sports Arena, which even the showman Lefty Driesell couldn’t do on a regular basis, and the result, if not quite a full house, was the fullest GSU had known since December 2008, when Florida State was the guest.

And halfway through, athletic director Cheryl Levick was ready to pull the plug — at least on the orange shirts. “There were so many distractions,” she said. “I wanted to say, ‘Get rid of those orange jerseys and get back in your white.’ ”

At halftime, see, Georgia State was tied with North Carolina Wilmington. With 10:14 left, the game was still even. Three minutes later, it wasn’t. The Panthers had surged ahead by 10 points and would win by 14, their 12th victory in the past 13 games. All this because of one woman’s faith in one coach.

“I believe in Ron Hunter,” Levick said. “I believe in that man. He’s a great fit for Georgia State.”

The crowd of 2,698 — capacity is 3,400 — shocked the team folks came to see. “The whole atmosphere in the gym was totally different,” said senior guard James Fields, who’s Georgia State’s captain and whom Hunter considers his most important player. “We’re used to it on the road; we’re not used to it at home … It gave me chills.”

For 30 minutes, it was possible to wonder if the boisterous gathering was going to undo the home side. Said Hunter: “These kids have never played before that big a crowd before.”

At halftime the coach had what he called “a come-to-Jesus moment” with his captain — “Though I think Jesus got in him more than me,” Hunter said — and Fields responded with 16 second-half points. At the end the throng was roaring for the Panthers, one of those clip-and-save moments in Georgia State athletic annals.

“This is a new culture for them,” Levick said, meaning the 1,611 students in attendance. “To get here and stand the whole game and scream and support the team. This is exactly what I wanted for them.”

Even those among us who believed Hunter was a good hire couldn’t have known something so good would happen so fast. “As new as it is for Georgia State,” Hunter said, “it’s new for me also. It’s humbling. I was walking across campus today, and the energy was unbelievable … We’ve given the institution an electric shock.”

Driving on Decatur Street before noon Thursday, a jaded correspondent saw something new: A handful of tents pitched outside the Sports Arena, temporary housing for folks who wanted prime position to watch the Panthers play. (A handmade sign read, “Welcome to Hunterville.”) For more than 50 years it has been possible to live in Atlanta and pay no attention to GSU basketball. Ten months on the job, Hunter has taken this city by the lapels and is shaking us for all he’s worth.

Afterward the man himself seemed almost shaken. He went without footwear and his team wore orange to promote the charity Samaritan’s Feet, for which Hunter has become a primary spokesman. “This game was a little more emotional to me because I know what it means,” he said. “I did a terrible job coaching, probably the worst job I’ve done since I’ve been here.”

But it all worked out. His team’s defensive pressure — the Panthers scored 26 points off 18 Wilmington turnovers — kept the game close and then rendered it not close at all. Remember that Hunter is working mostly with players inherited from Rod Barnes, but you wouldn’t know it to watch them now.

Said Buzz Peterson, Wilmington’s coach: “Ron’s got these guys playing with a lot more confidence.”

Said Hunter: “I believed it could happen. I might not have been the first choice, but I believe I was the right choice.”

Levick was standing nearby. Someone asked if Hunter had indeed been her first choice. “Yes,” she said, and how can you not be swayed by a guy big enough to make a shocking admission?

“I’m a man’s man,” Hunter said of his preparation for this shoeless night, “but I got a pedicure. And it felt good.”

97 comments Add your comment

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
9:57 pm

Mark, you must be terribly bored tonight.

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
9:57 pm

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
10:00 pm

there’s something to be said for first
its certainly better than worst
on this a great blog
or a knot on a log
till the time to comes to ride home in a hearse

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
10:01 pm

i guess riding with william randolph hearst would have sounded better.

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
10:04 pm

speaking of william randolph hearst Mark, do you recall the kidnapping of his granddaughter Patty, who was subsequently brainwashed into the symbionese liberation army?

i never thought she should have gone to jail over that bank robbery.

Thank You Mr. Bradley

January 12th, 2012
10:06 pm

Great game. Great Environment. Great Win. Great feet.

English

January 12th, 2012
10:10 pm

Thank you Mark Bradley. The article was perfect. You totally redeemed yourself

Occupy Hunterville

January 12th, 2012
10:10 pm

The game lived up to all expectations. Some of those steals made me want to cry (in a good way).

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
10:10 pm

who the heck is north carolina wilmington?

todd grantham

January 12th, 2012
10:13 pm

Mark, i shan’t pander to you by saying your writing is great. i enjoy your pieces very much, and i know the shelf life of writing on the blog is short. but, that being said, i was FIRST!!!

Phil Oneacre

January 12th, 2012
10:17 pm

Good article

Panama

January 12th, 2012
10:21 pm

Cannot remember better game in the GSU Sports Arena ever. Never thought I would see that place full

panther

January 12th, 2012
10:21 pm

Yes, i am in that picture at the top:)

GSPanther

January 12th, 2012
10:27 pm

come back again on January 28 and you’ll see a packed house.

With all the other college bball teams sucking we are the best story in town!

PantherTalk.com

January 12th, 2012
10:29 pm

Great night to be a Panther. Thanks for coming out. This was an awesome read.

Now that the school is behind this team, I the city gets behind it.

GSU_2012

January 12th, 2012
10:29 pm

I have been at Georgia State University for 4 years. I remember that Florida State game in 2008, I was a freshman, and the gym was full of more FSU fans than our own. Tonight the gym was ours. I have always been proud of my school, but I know that a lot of my fellow peers have not shared that pride. To be able to stand, scream, and shout for my team with 1600 of my closest friends is the best going away present I could have been given.

HockeyDawg

January 12th, 2012
10:30 pm

Bravo for Coach Hunter! He seems like a guy who really has it together. He’s doing a great job of coaching, has the team believing, and has the campus excited. Best of all, his shoeless coaching adventure tonight and his mission trips show that he’s got his priorities in order. I’m a Bulldog, but it certainly looks like the best team in the state this year plays in the GSU Sports Arena. Nice job, Panthers!

PantherTalk.com

January 12th, 2012
10:30 pm

Great night to be a Panther! Thanks for coming out and covering the game. I really enjoyed this read.

Now that the school is behind this team and Coach Hunter, I hope the city takes notice.

wolf

January 12th, 2012
10:33 pm

i think the guy in the picture up to was in a movie…..he looks really familiar.

BariBlue

January 12th, 2012
10:36 pm

This game was AWESOME on many levels. The crowd was amazing and rowdy the home game. The shooting has been off in the last couple of games… I hope CRH and the team continue to improve on this. This night was just EPIC… that is all.

panther

January 12th, 2012
10:39 pm

atm78

January 12th, 2012
10:42 pm

For a minute there, I thought Occupy Atlanta had moved to the Sports Arena.

Can we pack the house out again on Sat...

January 12th, 2012
10:51 pm

…I think so. We need all those students to come back again to make it happen.

GSU

January 12th, 2012
10:52 pm

Go CRH! GO GSU!

Mark Bradley

January 12th, 2012
10:53 pm

Kudos to Todd Grantham. And a new contract.

Go Panthers!!

January 12th, 2012
11:00 pm

Extremely exciting time.

And as for the concerns some have about football attendance, here is evidence that winning games will put fannies in the seats.

Asking 3,000 Students to come out on Sat?

January 12th, 2012
11:01 pm

Enter your comments here

Sluggo

January 12th, 2012
11:04 pm

Hoped you enjoyed a pretty good basketball game tonight Mark. After all, State is playing the best ball in the Georgia right now. Way to go CRH and crew for pulling out an emotional win. The guys seemed jaded the first 30 minutes,but pulled it together when it counted. On to Towson. Go Panthers.

Asking 3,000 Students to come out on Sat?

January 12th, 2012
11:04 pm

Can it happen?

STATEment

January 12th, 2012
11:05 pm

Sick atmosphere and a solid win! Proud of our guys! Let’s pack the house again Sat. for Towson!

Sluggo

January 12th, 2012
11:08 pm

Hoped you enjoyed some good basketball tonight Mark. After all, GSU is playing the best basketball in the state right now. Way to go team and pulling out an emotional victory. On to Towson. Go Panthers.

ajg-marietta

January 12th, 2012
11:10 pm

What a game. What an atmosphere. Great write-up. Glad you made it Mr. Bradley!

Asking 3,000 Students to come out on Sat?

January 12th, 2012
11:10 pm

We had five percent of the student population at the game tonight. Can we get ten percent to come out to the remaining games. I think the students are capable of it, but will it happen?

Frank Williams

January 12th, 2012
11:12 pm

10% of the student population and we have 3,000 students at a game?

January 12th, 2012
11:12 pm

Is it possible?

gsu01

January 12th, 2012
11:13 pm

Welcome to the bandwagon Bradley! About freaking time.

slimseville

January 12th, 2012
11:24 pm

Really proud of my alma mater. Wish I could have been there tonight.

JSS

January 12th, 2012
11:26 pm

UNC Wilmington with as many NCAA appearances as UGA or and one less than Tech in this century… 2000. 2001, 2003, 2006… Live with it… Good luck GSU!!!

Sargent Carter

January 12th, 2012
11:52 pm

You go Ron Hunter…finally this city and state have a coach with a heart…by the way, when do we get to the final four?

PantherCJ

January 12th, 2012
11:59 pm

This night was special. We felt the unity in the Sports Arena… Great Job CRH!

And nice write up Bradley.

GSU is in Atlanta

January 13th, 2012
12:05 am

I love the energy that all of our Superfans are bringing to athletics and hope that all of my fellow GSU alumni and fans will embrace our athletics from now on.

#Braying in #Hunterville

Paul in NH

January 13th, 2012
12:05 am

Nice to see success at GSU. I am sure that the students had a great time There is nothing better than seeing your team come from nowhere to win games – at least, that is how it seemed to me when I was at GT and Cremins was hired. I hope the kids and the school enjoy the ride for as long as possible.

Paul in NH

January 13th, 2012
12:06 am

coach todd
UNC-W was every high school kid in the Triangle’s favorite college day visit – Surf U.

Sluggo

January 13th, 2012
12:07 am

Hope you enjoyed some good basketball tonight Mark. After all, GSU is playing the best basketball in the state right now. Good job Panthers pulling out an emotional victory. On to Towson!

GSU is in Atlanta

January 13th, 2012
12:21 am

Adding to Paul in NH…UNCW also has some of the best looking girls of any college campus…Surf’s Up!

GSU_Tang

January 13th, 2012
12:36 am

Thanks a lot, Mark. Love to see your effort and attitude.

Sargent Carter

January 13th, 2012
12:55 am

We have been looking for a man like you for a long long time….can you do the do?…bring home the victories…show us the money…Coach Hunter…there is no greater challenge in college basketball…so you can’t leave…recruit some 5 stars

GSUalum

January 13th, 2012
1:29 am

WTHeck?! Get off it Mr. Grantham. Don’t YOU have anything else to do?

Honest Ingine

January 13th, 2012
3:01 am

How bout them Panthers!

GSU1970

January 13th, 2012
4:41 am

The “50-year” comment is right on…I started at GSU in 1964 and basketball was not on the horizon back then even though we had a team.