Coach Ron Hunter had seen it before. Last weekend the Panthers lost all three games they played in the World Vision Classic and the script had been the same then. Slow starts and poor shooting dug the Panthers in holes they were unable to dig out of. However, this time the Panthers were the benefactor of a slow start out of McNeese State also as both teams shot less than 30 percent from the field in the first half. Georgia State seized the opportunity and came out on fire in the second half to outscore the Cowboys 45-28 after the break and win 69-50.
Hunter said after the game, "The first half was too much like how we played in Seattle and that is not good enough to get the job done. The light switch went off over the final 20 minutes and you could really see the confidence build in our team."
Another key stat for the Panthers was that they only missed one free throw all night, finishing 18 for 19. Last season the Panthers shot just 59 percent from the free throw line, which ranked them dead last in the conference. Hunter commented on how he has stressed with his players the importance of hitting free throws.
"From the very first practice that we had, I talked about us needing to hit free throws," said Hunter. "We were the worst free throw shooting team in the country last year and I guaranteed that it would not happen again this year. We have put a lot of time and energy into free throw shooting in practice and tonight it paid dividends."
The Panthers were led by sophomore point guard Devonta White, who finished with 23 points. Josh Micheaux and Jihad Ali also had strong outings for the Panthers. Ali was unstoppable on the boards in the first half, pulling in an incredible 11 rebounds. He would finish with 8 points and 14 rebounds. Micheaux would finish the game with 16 points, 12 of which came in the second half, and 10 rebounds. Micheaux showed incredible penetration ability and touch around the rim as he frequently was able to knife his way through defenders. Leading by 16 in the second half, Micheaux made a cut between two defenders and had a slam dunk that nearly caused the roof to come of the Georgia State Sports Arena.
A little under halfway through the second half the Panthers lost senior center Eric Buckner to an injury. Buckner would lie on the ground clutching his side for a while before walking off on his own power. James Vincent came in off the bench for Buckner and played very well, finishing with 8 points and 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes of play. Buckner would return in the final minutes of the game, but Hunter did not understate the Vincent's impact.
"The way James Vincent came off the bench in the second half was huge for us," said Hunter. "He really gave us energy and really lifted us up. When he can play like that, it gives us a great opportunity to win. His play gives us an inside presence when Buckner needs a break."
Overall the Panthers had a solid performance in their first home game of the season. They played very well defensively all night, holding McNeese State to just 32.3 percent from the field. Before being hurt, Buckner recorded 4 huge blocks that caused the Cowboys to think twice about driving into the lane. However, there are still a lot of things this team can improve on. While they were able to get away with it on Friday night, the Panthers once again were awful in the first half offensively. They were 1 for 9 from three point range in the first half, with the one made attempt coming from Rashaad Richardson on the final possession of the first half. They had a terrible turnover to assist ratio, committing 9 turnovers compared to only 2 assists while consistently taking ill-advised shots.
The second half improvement came as the Panthers stopped settling for the jump shot and showed their ability to attack the rim off the dribble. Devonta White and Josh Micheaux are the best on the team at getting penetration and either finishing at the basket or passing on the block to a rolling forward. If Georgia State cannot find a way to shoot the ball more consistently, then look for them to rely on that type of offensive attack much more often moving forward.