JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Georgia State Panthers became an instant NCAA tournament darling after their upset of Baylor, complete with coach Ron Hunter falling off his rolling chair when his son, R.J., made the winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Can the Panthers keep their dancing shoes on against Xavier on Saturday night? The Musketeers had the easiest time of the eight teams that played in Jacksonville in the round of 64, rolling to a 76-57 win over Ole Miss in a game they led by double digits for most of the way. Their post play was a big reason why -- they had 30 points in the paint and outrebounded the Rebels, which also made way for open 3-point shots (going 10-for-23).
Key to the game: Xavier’s post play. Georgia State was able to hang with much bigger Baylor because it was able to force the Bears into mistakes with its press. The Panthers forced 21 turnovers, turning them into 21 points -- a huge difference in the game. They also were able to contain Baylor forward Rico Gathers, holding him to nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Much smaller Georgia State actually outscored Baylor 20-18 in the paint. They might need to employ a similar defensive strategy against the Musketeers, who have a clear advantage inside with 6-foot-10 forward James Farr and 6-10 center Matt Stainbrook. The Panthers play with three guards, and Curtis Washington (6-10) is their only starter that comes close from a size standpoint.
Stainbrook had a huge game against Ole Miss, with 20 points and nine rebounds, hitting eight of his 10 shots; it marked the 10th time this season that Stainbrook has shot 75 percent or better from the field. Farr had just six points, but he added 13 rebounds. That post presence has helped pave the way for Xavier’s 3-point game, too. Against Ole Miss, it shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Player to watch: R.J. Hunter. All eyes will remain on Hunter, who cemented his name in Georgia State lore with his game-winning 30-foot 3-point shot. Ron Hunter said after the game: “There are a lot of coaches that get to the Elite 32 or the Final Four, but when you get to do it with your son, you can watch your son hit a half-court shot, I can't tell you how I feel inside. That's unbelievable. I wish every dad in America could have that opportunity, what I just experienced with my son.”
R.J. Hunter has a decision to make about his NBA future when the season ends, but for now he remains the go-to option for the Panthers -- especially if second-leading scorer Ryan Harrow is out again with a strained hamstring. Hunter started off slowly against Baylor -- with just two points by halftime -- but hit his groove when his team absolutely needed him late in the second half.
Hunter scored 12 of his team’s final 13 points in the last 2:38 to rally his team from a 12-point deficit. That is a true testament to Hunter’s ability with Harrow out. Entering the tournament, they averaged 38.5 points per game -- fourth-most of any duo in the country. Hunter is also pretty close to automatic from the line, making 102 of his past 108 free throw attempts. There’s no doubt Xavier needs an answer for him.