The first game came on Saturday afternoon came against power conference foe Washington. The Huskies won their second consecutive conference tournament last season and lost to UNC in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Georgia State hung in there with the Huskies for a while, tying the game at 23 about midway through the first half. However, Washington would stretch the lead to 10 before halftime and eventually to 26 in the second half. A late surge cut the margin of victory to only 17 as the Panthers fell 91-74.
Rashaad Richardson led the Panthers with 21 bench points, all of which came from behind the arc. The sophomore guard tied a Georgia State record by shooting 70 percent (7 of 10) from 3-point range. The Panthers were plagued by foul trouble early as Eric Buckner and Devonta White both had 3 fouls before halftime. Brandon McGee, someone the Panthers will depend upon to be a consistent scorer, finished with 17 points and six rebounds.
Washington was led by Sophomore C.J. Wilcox who finished the game with 22 points while shooting 5 for 8 from 3-point range. Wilcox put in an all-around solid performance grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and collecting 2 steals. The Huskies also got solid performances from Darnell Gant and Tony Wroten who scored 18 points each.
In the second game on Sunday Georgia State squared off against the Portland Pilots. Poor shooting would be the Panthers’ downfall in this game as the squad shot just 36.4 percent from the field. Portland, on the other hand, shot 52.2 percent. The Pilots would build a lead early, but strong defensive play allowed the Panthers to cut the deficit to just 8 points at the half.
Georgia State would continue to play well on defense in the second half, forcing 11 turnovers. The Panthers even took a lead late in the game, 52-49, but Portland would close the game with a 17-9 run to secure the 66-61 victory. This game is one that the Panthers have to feel as though they let slip away in the early going as they dug themselves a hole by shooting just 29 percent in the first half and converting on only 1 of 9 attempts from 3-point range. The Panthers were led on Sunday by McGee who finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Buckner and White also had solid performances finishing with 13 and 12 points respectively. Portland was led by Nemanja Mitrovic who scored 13 points and collected 6 rebounds.
In the tournament finale the Panthers went up against the Florida Atlantic Owls. A slow start once again plagued the Panthers as the Owls were on fire early, shooting 59.3 percent overall and 73.3 percent from 3-point range in the first half. That allowed them to take a 19-5 lead early and stretch it out to as many as 18 with 4:25 remaining in the half. The Panthers would trail 39-25 at the break.
The first half hole was too much to overcome and Georgia State would get no closer than six points on the way to losing 84-77. One positive sign for the Panthers in this game was the play of center Eric Buckner. Buckner struggled against larger and more athletic competition in the first two games, but was unleashed against the Owls, finishing with 24 points. He also blocked three shots, collected three steals, and helped the Panthers dominate the paint. Georgia State out-rebounded FAU 32-25 and outscored them in the paint 44-16. Buckner’s efforts, mainly against FAU, would secure him a spot on the All-Tournament team. Other contributors for the Panthers included White, Kimbro, Ali, and Josh Micheaux who finished with 9, 12, 14, and 11 points respectively.
However, Florida Atlantic’s shooting was simply too much to overcome. The defending Sun Belt Conference champions finished 15-25 from behind the arc and shot 55.1 percent from the field overall.
One of the enigmas of the Florida Atlantic game was the playing time of Brandon McGee. After putting in two solid performances the first two games, McGee only saw 15 minutes on the court and finished with just 2 points.
Overall, we learned quite a bit about this Georgia State team in this tournament. Hunter would talk at length throughout the three days about how this team needs to learn how to win. That was evident as FAU and Portland were games the Panthers probably could have won had they not been plagued by slow starts. Georgia State has to learn how to come out of the gates much stronger to try to avoid constantly playing from behind. Buckner and White are two guys that both struggled staying out of foul trouble throughout the tournament. This has to change as those are two players Georgia State cannot afford to have watching from the bench. The play of Tony Kimbro is another factor that needs to be highlighted. While he didn’t have eye popping statistics, he played very well and showed that he will certainly be competing for playing time throughout the season.