Posted on

Georgia State stuns Baylor off R.J. Hunter’s dagger three-pointer

Ga St beat baylor

JACKSONVILLE — Georgia State coach Ron Hunter fell out of his chair. The rest of America probably did, too.

The West region 14-seeded Panthers knocked out No. 3 seed Baylor, 57-56, when Hunter’s son, junior guard R.J. Hunter, hit a 35-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key with four seconds remaining. The elder Hunter, who tore his left Achilles during the Sun Belt Conference championship celebration and coached from a stool Thursday, belly-flopped on the floor of the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in disbelief.

“I know I broke something else but it doesn’t even matter,” Ron Hunter said.

BOX SCORE: Panthers 57, Bears 56

Georgia State trailed by 12 with just 2:39 left, but 7 straight points by Hunter – who made just one of his first eight shots – cut it to 56-51 with 1:28 remaining. After a timeout, Hunter then stole the ensuing inbounds pass for a layup – the Bears’ 20th turnover – and Baylor’s lead was suddenly just three.

Georgia State guard Isaiah Dennis hit 1-of-2 foul shots with 19.3 seconds left to cut the deficit to 56-54, and it still appeared the Panthers were in trouble when Baylor guard Kenny Chery, an 81% foul shooter, went to the line. But Chery’s first attempt rolled off the front of the rim and Hunter got just enough space to bury the long 3-pointer for the lead.

Baylor’s Taurean Prince missed a heave from just inside halfcourt as time expired.

Hunter finished with 16 points of 5-of-12 shooting.

Georgia State’s leading scorer, guard Ryan Harrow, didn’t play due to a hamstring injury.​

Posted on

Georgia State is no pushover for Bears in NCAA tournament

Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered while celebrating his team’s Sun Belt Championship victory last week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When Baylor coach Scott Drew looks over at the Georgia State sideline, he’ll see coach Ron Hunter tooling around on a scooter.

Hunter injured his Achilles tendon during the postgame celebration after Georgia State’s 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt tournament championship game last Sunday.

Hunter has been the butt of a lot of jokes from his players since his injury, including his own son, Georgia State star guard R.J. Hunter.

“You would think I would have a little more sympathy with my son, but he’s been wearing me out,” Hunter said. “It’s been absolutely crazy how he’s been killing me with this. I couldn’t find my scooter getting on the bus, and he hid my scooter.”

Regardless of Ron Hunter’s lack of mobility, Drew expects a tough NCAA tournament opener against 14th-seeded Georgia State at 12:40 p.m. Thursday at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Drew knows Hunter well since they coached against each other in the Summit League. Hunter led IUPUI to a win over Drew’s Valparaiso team in the 2003 Summit League tournament championship game in their last game against each other.

“Yeah, that wasn’t a good memory for me,” Drew said. “But Coach Hunter has a great personality. He’s very energetic – that’s why his injury is going to affect him. I think Coach Hunter’s biggest strengths are that his teams always play hard and they allow themselves to get a lot of easy baskets because of the energy level they play with.”

The third-seeded Bears (24-9) will have to contain R.J. Hunter to keep the Panthers from tearing up their defense. Hunter leads Georgia State (24-9) with a 19.8 scoring average and 3.7 assists per game and is projected to be an NBA draft pick if he chooses to come out after his junior year.

“He’s a great player,” Baylor guard Kenny Chery said. “He can shoot and he can put it down on the floor. He’s good defensively and he’s got length. He’s going to be a hard matchup to contain, and we’re going to do our best to make every shot difficult.”

But Hunter might be without backcourt mate Ryan Harrow who didn’t play in the Sun Belt championship game due to a hamstring injury. Harrow, who formerly played at North Carolina State and Kentucky, is Georgia State’s second leading scorer with an 18.7 average.

“I’ve been doing rehab like three times a day, so I’m trying to get myself ready,” Harrow said. “It will be a game-time decision. Obviously I won’t be 100 percent but as long as I can do my rehab and try to get out there on the floor, I will.”

With Harrow out of the lineup, Kevin Ware took up the slack by scoring 18 of Georgia State’s 38 points in the Sun Belt championship game. Ware suffered a broken leg while playing for Louisville’s national championship team in 2013, and has averaged 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in his first season for Georgia State.

The Bears hope to exploit Georgia State inside with their superior height. With Rico Gathers ranking third in the country with 11.6 rebounds per game, the Bears are one of the best rebounding teams in the country with a plus-eight per game margin. In contrast, the Panthers average less than one more rebound per game than their opponents.

Keeping the 6-8, 275-pound Gathers from dominating the boards will be a difficult task for the Panthers.

“It’s like facing J.J. Watt,” Ron Hunter said. “That guy is unbelievable. He’s bigger than any football player we’ve got at Georgia State.”

The Bears believe they’ll get back on track offensively after shooting just 32.8 percent in a 62-52 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament semifinals last Friday. Taurean Prince, Baylor’s leading scorer with a 13.8 average, hit one of 11 shots and missed all seven 3-point attempts against the Jayhawks.

“We’re back from it,” Prince said. “It happens but we’ve still got great confidence. The next morning we were back in the gym getting shots on our own and we’ll be ready.”

Georgia State is making its third NCAA tournament in school history and its first since 2001. Baylor is making its ninth appearance, including five in the last eight years under Drew. But this is the first time the Bears have gone to the tournament in consecutive seasons.

After making the Sweet 16 last year, Drew believes his players will come into the West regional with considerable confidence.

“It definitely can’t hurt,” Drew said. “I think the big thing is year-in and year-out as we’ve had postseason success, player-led teams are always better than coach-led teams in passing on their experience, their information and their thoughts.”

If the Bears beat Georgia State, they’ll play Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s game between sixth-seeded Xavier and 11th-seeded Mississippi. Though they are the highest seeded team in the Jacksonville regional, the Baylor players don’t see themselves as favorites.

“We always think of ourselves as the underdog, so we always play with a chip on our shoulder,” Baylor forward Royce O’Neale said. “Every team is good now so we’ve just got to prepare every game. Any game could be your last, so we have to play like it.”

By JOHN WERNER jwerner@wacotrib.com

Posted on

HAWKS, WARRIORS EMBODY NEW SCHOOL

nba_g_teg33_cr_600x600

When critics dismiss the June prospects of the conference-leading Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, they look not to the future but to the past:

“The Warriors are a jump-shooting team that lacks deep playoff experience.”

The latter charge holds some weight with so many past champions steeped in postseason memories.

“The Hawks don’t have a superstar, the defining feature of many a title winner.”

That’s also true. Atlanta is powered by mere stars.

But while the past is a good guide to what typically works, it can blind you to imminent change. There’s that old saying about how generals always fight the last war. Technology warps the battlefield in ways these generals can’t predict, as they draw on quickly outdated experience. France began World War I employing the Napoleonic-era tactic of bayonet charges — the battlefield equivalent of isolation post-ups. (Spoiler alert: It worked about as well as Flip Saunders’ curmudgeonly rejection of 3-pointers.)

As Warriors coach Steve Kerr says, when asked if a jump-shooting team can win a title, “the game has changed.” The game has indeed changed. Three-pointers are in, isolation post-ups are out. Hero ball is out, moving the ball is in.

[+] EnlargeHawks Sign

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesMany fans have been vocal about appreciating the Hawks’ and Warriors’ fluid style of play.

“Ball movement has dramatically improved around the league the last few years,” Kerr says of basketball’s evolution. “It’s coming away from iso-ball, pick-and-roll to one side. More and more teams are using false movement, early in a possession to create something on the weak side of the floor. [There are] a lot of reasons for that — rule changes, defenses have gotten more sophisticated overloading the strong side, forcing you to be more creative on offense.”

The strong side, i.e., the side of the floor where the ball is, used to host almost all action on a court. This was especially true in the old days when a ban on “illegal defense” allowed post-up players plenty of space on the strong side. Throw it down to your center and watch him go to work as tumbleweeds trundle through the neglected weak side.

Now the weak side has never been stronger, and Kyle Korver is its patron saint. The once-ignored weak side is where a defense gets yanked around by shooters, as it simultaneously attempts to thwart drives on the strong side. Atlanta’s weakside movement has it on the forefront of the Weakside Movement.

The Warriors are playing catch-up, to hear Kerr tell it.

“They get to the next level of their offense,” he said of Atlanta’s multilayered attack. “We take away the first option, they automatically get to the second. You take that one, they automatically and fluidly get to the third option. Very few teams do that. We don’t. We’re not there yet. … They’re two years into their work with their staff. This is our first year.”

If the Warriors aren’t there yet, then theirs is a future that should terrify the league. Golden State currently has the top offensive rating. And it should surprise no one that the Warriors and Hawks are Nos. 1 and 2 in assists per game.

If there’s a level of proficiency beyond this, it could define basketball for awhile.

The Warriors are still spreading their wings on offense, making some errors along the way. Their top-ranked defense is where you’ll see a system so well-actualized that it’s pioneering. Though “switching” screens is looked down on by certain old-school basketball minds, the Warriors use it constantly, ceding little strategically because they have so many long, mobile defenders. Golden State will even spring little guys onto 7-footers when the shot clock is low. That’s how Stephen Curry ended up guarding Dirk Nowitzki on two different post-ups this season. The result: A surprised Dirk bricked both.

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNeither Golden State nor Atlanta has a pedigree of titles, but does that matter anymore?

In theory, switching gets you into terrible, defense-ruining mismatches. In an era of basketball where positions matter increasingly less, that concern is fading. With its roster of versatile, savvy defenders, the Warriors are changing what defense looks like.

Golden State has its doubters but also many converts. It’s difficult to argue with a team tops in offense and defense, with a historically great margin of victory. Las Vegas has them as the West favorites, accordingly.

Atlanta, on the other hand, can’t quite seem to sell people on its bizarre, superstar-less concoction. Las Vegas has the Cavs as a more likely champion than the Hawks by a factor of four. This despite Atlanta claiming a massive 11-game lead over Cleveland and soundly beating Cleveland in their past three meetings.

The resounding message from the public is that a Hawks win is not equal to a Cavs win. A victory for LeBron’s team helps validate preseason expectations that James will, again, return to the Finals. That evidence is embraced as making sense. A victory for Jeff Teague‘s team helps validate nobody’s preseason expectations and wholly upends the notion that superstars — the characters marketed to fans as extremely important — are even necessary. That subversive, confusing evidence is rejected. Or, it’s rejected until it becomes the norm to value a team’s collective ball movement over the prowess of its top player. A Hawks title on the heels of this Spurs championship might do the trick.

In the meantime, we’ll watch where the Hawks and Warriors can take the sport. What we won’t be watching, though, is either Korver or Klay Thompson in the Wednesday matchup between these teams. Both are carefully nursing minor injuries in a season where neither exceeded 33 minutes per game. That’s another way the game’s progressing. It’s more widely known that players perform better when not run into the ground with heavy minutes.

Of the trend toward resting players, Kerr said, “They have access to a lot more data now than they did 20 years ago. We keep track of everything.”

He then pivoted to a belief in progress itself: “It’s like anything else. Medicine improves, science. People learn more. We learn better ways to take care of our bodies. Not just athletes but people in general. So, anytime somebody starts a comment out with, ‘In the old days,’ it’s usually not that great. Well, in the old days, guys played 48 minutes. Well, we’ve made advancements. We don’t go backwards with this stuff. We go forwards.”

That’s why the Hawks and Warriors don’t look like contenders of the past: because they’re the future.

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss | ESPN.com