Posted: 4:16 pm Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Georgia State’s worst nightmare becomes real 

By Mark Bradley

The sight no Panther wanted to see. (Bill Haber/AP)

The sight no Panther wanted to see. (Bill Haber/AP)

Georgia State owned the Sun Belt this season. It went 17-1 in league play and was only a four-point loss at Troy from running the table. But even as the Panthers were ruling their roost, the question that haunts all good teams from lesser mid-majors hung over them: What happened if they had a bad day at the worst possible time?

On Sunday, the best team in the Sun Belt wasted an 11-point lead with 5:10 remaining and lost the tournament final by a skinny point in overtime. Louisiana-Lafayette, which had already lost to Georgia State twice, won the only one that mattered. La-La is in la-la land, not to mention the Big Dance. Georgia State is surely relegated to the NIT, where it could well play a Round 1 game against Georgia in Athens.

Did Georgia State deserve better? Yes, in the grand scheme. The mid-major conference tournaments are patently unfair to the regular-season champs. (Back in the day, conference tournaments were patently unfair to the big boys, too. South Carolina went 14-0 in the ACC in 1970 but lost the tournament final to North Carolina State in double overtime. The Gamecocks’ best player, guard John Roche, was hobbling on an injured ankle suffered the day before. Bobby Cremins, Roche’s backcourt mate, made a critical turnover against the Wolfpack and was so distraught he hid out in a mountain cabin for a week.)

For all the lip service we pay to the big conference tournaments now, the advent of at-large bids have rendered them essentially meaningless. The lesser mid-majors are the ones the count. It wasn’t enough for Georgia State to go 17-1. The Panthers had to turn around and go 2-0 when all the pressure was on them, and they got a bit unlucky.

Had the seedings held, GSU would have played Western Kentucky, which they’d beaten by 23 points in Bowling Green and by 18 in Atlanta last weekend, for the title. Instead La-La upset the Hilltoppers, again by a skinny point, in the semis. Thus did Georgia State’s splendid season come down to one game against a team from Louisiana that had twice played the Panthers close, and that game, wouldn’t you know, would be staged in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.

Which isn’t to say the Panthers couldn’t have won. They had the game and let it slip. They made one basket over the final 5:18 of regulation, that on a tip-in by Ryan Harrow, the transfer from both Kentucky and North Carolina State who would score 37 points and have the game of his young life. Senior guard Devonta White lost the ball, leading to the La-La basket that cut the lead to two. Harrow missed a jumper with 15 seconds left and the Ragin’ Cajuns tied it on a putback. (For all the things GSU does well — shoot the trey, make free throws, protect the ball — it’s terrible at rebounding.)

The Panthers took a three-point lead in overtime on R.J. Hunter’s trey, but it didn’t hold. Hunter missed a no-chance 3-pointer on the next possession, and his subsequent steal, which might have yielded a breakaway basket, instead became a re-steal that enabled La-La to nose back ahead.

Another White turnover became a fast-break layup that put the Ragin’ Cajuns ahead by three points with 44 seconds left, and now it was down to free throws. La-La’s Xavian Rimmer made two with 29 seconds left but missed the front end 10 seconds later. Down a point, GSU had the ball and a chance to win.

If he had it do again, coach Ron Hunter would surely have called timeout. (He had one remaining.) But he trusted his guys to get a good shot, and they didn’t really. Harrow drove the lane and hoisted a tough chance in traffic. It missed. The Sun Belt’s best team had saved its bad day for the worst possible moment.

Not that the performance was anywhere near awful. The Panthers made 48.3 percent of their shots, held La-La to 42.7 percent and made only seven turnovers in 45 minutes. Most days that’s enough to win. But they were outrebounded 46-30, and four of those turnovers came in the final three minutes of regulation plus overtime.

The Sun Belt’s best team over 2 1/2 months tripped at the final hurdle. It doesn’t seem fair, but sometimes it happens that way. When you’re a good team in one of the lesser mid-majors, you always fear that this could be your fate. For Georgia State, the nightmare became real.

From February via myajc.com, our premium site: Georgia State’s Hunter tries not to think about March.

32 comments
JaySly
JaySly

Total choke by the coaches--gs should have won this game easy

SBUFan
SBUFan

5 unbiased comments from an Atlantic 10 fan who watched the Sun Belt Tournament:


1) I can understand why an alum would take offense to the term La La.  Hope that snub was unintentional.


2) UGA and the Braves have nothing to do with this discussion


3) GSU was the superior team.  I know that is not what everybody on this thread wants to hear, but from an unbiased perspective they were the better team.  However, credit should be given to the Ragin' Cajuns.  They won.  That is the important and undeniable fact.


4) For GSU fans who say that the Cajuns will get blown out in the NCAA tournament.  You are probably right.  However, GSU as a 14th seed probably would not do any better.  Yes, I do know about the Wisconsin game.  That is why I say probably, not definitely.


5) Ryan Harrow was the tournament MVP.  I know that traditionally the MVP goes to someone on the winning team, but Ryan Harrow was the MVP.  It was not even close.


Not expecting everyone (or anyone) to agree.  However, that is the view from one fan of a different conference.  BTW, yes, the A10 got too many bids to the tournament.  GSU probably deserved one of those.

boudreaux1962
boudreaux1962

OK, let me start by saying I'm a Louisiana Alum, not fro La La...isn't that in California.  I respect Georgia State as a very good team.  As a reporter, this guy is a joke, maybe I should call the team he covers Ga Ga.  In two games this season Louisiana gave the Panthers everything they could handle.  We have also have two 1st team Sun Belt players, one of which is the Defensive Player of the year.  Also like Ga. State, a very good supporting cast.  Face it, a good team beat another good team.   I honestly thought it was over when the Panthers took the 10 point lead with 5 minutes left, buy was happy to see them take the foot off the petal and try to run clock instead of attack the tired Cajuns (Three games in less than 48 hours).   I will be in San Antonio to support my university.  Good luck to Georgia St  in the NIT.

TU
TU

With La La's Long in foul trouble, why did they not pound it inside?


WalterBM
WalterBM

The coaches lost this game for these kids in the last five minutes.  Who takes so much time off the clock and then not score when they're just four or five points ahead?  Georgia State should have kept attacking offensively, but the coaches decided to eat up the clock, yet again, with barely a lead.  Fail.  I feel bad for the players that the coaching collapsed at the end.  I especially feel bad for Harrow who scored almost half the points in the game and his poor dad crying on live TV from pride yet had to endure watching a terrible nightmare of a game, coaching wise, at the end. :(  So unnecessary.

Who cares about the NIT??  Georgia State should reject the invitation and just end the season somewhat gracefully.  I do not want to see another major embarrassment.  For the fans sake, let's just call it and say we did well during the regular season and leave it at that. 

DirtyDawg
DirtyDawg

Only caught the last few minutes of the game - regulation and overtime - and I don't know how GaSt fans saw it, but the refs 'swallowed their whistles' on a critical call in the final minute or so when GS had a four point lead (I think) and instead of a foul and two shots, they ruled it traveling (or something) and a turnover. It ended up costing them the game. I'm beginning to think that B-ball needs to have 'booth reviews on these damn things - a challenge process, automatic in the last five minutes with the score, and outcome, still in doubt. These kids and coaches work too hard to be eliminated on an obviously missed call.

TheOldGuy
TheOldGuy

Congrats on a great year to Georgia State. You belong in the NCAA. Hope you get in.

At home in Larryville
At home in Larryville

Mark, just add the Panthers to a long and distinguished line of Atlanta and Georgia teams that couldn't get it done when it mattered most.  Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream, Dawgs, Jackets, and now Panthers.  Welcome to the family State! You have truly arrived.  ONE OF US, ONE OF US!

Ted_Striker
Ted_Striker

Wish the game had gone the other way however Georgia State still has some basketball to be played. Maybe they'll do it with a chip on their shoulder. 

TampGator1
TampGator1

350.....


You enjoy the NIT games and your "book it" for Kentucky beating down the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney....that being the FLORIDA GATORS.  You are such a "booking it" genius, no doubt. 

Pounceman
Pounceman

Jeff Davis you are the REAL GS dude! Enjoy your Knats son....

Circle70
Circle70

The Sun Belt is a LOW major conference (bottom third of conference power rankings).  Teams in these conferences know going in that you win it all or you go home.  Even mid-majors have a tough time getting an at-large bid.

Vermillionb
Vermillionb

Hi Mark,

We Ragin Cajuns prefer to be called The University of Lousiana rather than La-La, BTW.  Really tough for Georgia State, who I believe should be in the tournament rather than some mid-level team from a big conference.  That would mean more chances at Cinderella stories, which one of the fun things about the tournament.

JeffersonDavisHogg
JeffersonDavisHogg

This was an entertaining game to watch. Hate that State couldn't pull it out. The kid Harrow was impressive and could probably play for any team in the nation. For the life of me though, why did GS try to slow the pace down with 5 mins left and a 10 point lead when it was obvious that LL couldn't stop Harrow and GS at that point? Seems like they let off the gas way to early. Reminded me of what I've seen Bobo do before. 350, I'm not sure I want to see the Dawgs face GS. I doubt it would be a beat down as you say and might turn out to be a bad day

Dawg350
Dawg350

Poor little state....was bill curry coaching the b- ball team today?? Haha!

Dawg350
Dawg350

Now we gonna find out baby,,,UGA will beat GSU down! Hahahahahahahaha! I can't stop lol at GSU losing to whoever that teams was!

HotDawg
HotDawg

At home in .....What a negative loser.. what did you have to say in '95 when Braves won or when UGA won? Or when Tech actually won also?

You must be one miserable SOB to live with.

All your posts are pitiful.

TU
TU

@TampGator1  Was Debose injured when he was thrown through the window? The Gators will need all of their receivers next year.


HotDawg
HotDawg

Tampa, congrats in ncaa. We'll do our best to bring home the NIT crown. A nice prep for a promising 2015 season.

Dawg350
Dawg350

Tampa

Y'all got lucky you slimy lizards.

JeffersonDavisHogg
JeffersonDavisHogg

@Pounceman Sorry to disappoint you son but all Dawg here. I do have a habit  though of watching any game and comment objectively no matter what the school. BTW, what is a Knat?

Dawg350
Dawg350

Who care la la! Y'all will get knocked out of the first round.

Dawg350
Dawg350

Bucky

Tell us more about this Obama care...since you are the expert on it! Lmfao!

WalterBM
WalterBM

I hope to death that we face UGA in the NIT!!!  I  want to see them lose to Georgia State for a third time in a row!!! lol  Last two times they lost in back to back years once in Athens and following year they lost in Atlanta then they said they had enough and couldn't schedule us anymore. lol  Scary sh!ts!  I would give anything to play UGA and let them have it...yet again! lol  GO PANTHERS!!!!! 

At home in Larryville
At home in Larryville

@HotDawg  


Ha ha ha, put down the PBR and calm down, dude.  What did I have to say when the Braves won almost 20 years ago now?  Or when UGA won almost 34 years ago now? Nevermind the countless playoff and big game losses in the last 20+ years.  I don't even care about Tech or State or the Dream (nobody does), just funny that the Panthers are now part of this city's legacy of big game failure.   

HotDawg
HotDawg

Be careful what you wish for punk.

HotDawg
HotDawg

As a Georgia fan, I was going to cheer for GSU to have success. But after reading GSU posters attacking UGA for whatever stupid reason they have (is it the inferiority complex?), I've changed my mind. Now I will be rooting for whoever they play.

Way to go GSU posters. You need lessons in making friends and influencing people.

But you already have legions of fans and don't need anymore, huh?

Seem to be losing some instead of gaining.

You can keep enjoying hanging as an afterthought in the boxscore section of the sports page.

Dawg350
Dawg350

GSU is in the nit as well you wimp.