Georgia State built an 11 game winning streak earlier this season by playing great defense and forcing turnovers to create offensive opportunities. Over the last few games, however, GSU had been scorched from behind the three point line and therefore was unable to get points in transition. Coach Ron Hunters Panthers returned to form on Monday, scoring 23 points off of 21 forced turnovers en route to a convincing 74-58 victory over James Madison University.
“Mental toughness won this game for us,” said Hunter. “With any team you are going to have peaks and valleys. We were playing some great basketball and were in a peak, but then you got to fight your way out of the valley.”
All season long the Panthers have struggled shooting the basketball, but the start they got off to tonight was just about the worst yet. GSU only made five of their first 20 shots and were 0 for 5 from behind the arc. Too frequently the Panthers settled for the jump shot rather than attacking the basket aggressively. That was not the start Coach Hunter was looking for and it caused the Panthers to fall down 17-8 early in the game.
“We had lost two games in a row, and in the first ten minutes of the first half we were still in that,” Hunter continued. “But we just talked about mental toughness and breaking out of it… I was more proud of the second half than I have been at any other time this season because it showed their character.”
After the slow start, the Panthers were able to break out by getting points in transition off turnovers. Jihad Ali and James Fields were all over the Dukes passing lanes and wreaked havoc on dribblers on the way to recording 5 and 3 steals, respectively. The Panthers also found success by getting to the free throw line. They shot 25 shots from the charity stripe, unfortunately they haven’t had much success getting them to fall.
“The games we don’t play well, he (Josh Micheaux) doesn’t get to the free throw line,” commented Hunter. “He has to do that. I look at we went to the line 25 times, and we probably won’t make a lot of them, but what that shows me is that they are being aggressive.
Georgia State was led on the night by senior guard James Fields who finished with 21 points. Josh Micheaux, who came off the bench for the second game in a row after struggling in recent games, turned in a fantastic game as well finishing with 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
“The past two games I had been in a slump and was overthinking, “ Micheaux said. “James told me before the game that I was just thinking too much. And the first time I got the ball I thought about it and passed it up, but the second time I just threw it up and it went in.”
The Dukes were led by Humpty Kitchens who finished the game with 15 points behind three made three-point shots. The loss was their seventh in the last nine games.
Georgia State now faces another tough stretch of games as they go to Drexel to play on Wednesday, but this Panther team is not the same team of the past. Coach Hunter commented multiple times about the expectations the team has placed on themselves following their terrific start.
“The key for this team right now is to have fun,” Hunter stated. “We have created some high expectations and what happens is we have been playing really tight. We lost three one possession games because we were just too tight. A month ago we were playing with much more freedom, and we need to get back to that.”
The Panthers return home on Saturday to play the VCU rams on CSS.