Georgia State beat Georgia Southern in a real barnburner in the Sun Belt Championship on Sunday, winning – wait for it – 38-36.
No, that is not a typo.
It was the lowest-scoring Sun Belt final since the University of New Orleans beat South Alabama, 22-20, in 1978.
What the heck happened on Sunday?
“Well defensively, I knew we’d be good,” Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We’ve been great all year. We’re actually (one of) the top defensive teams in the country. Offensively, I thought we’d be better. We had just scored 83 the night before (against UL-Lafayette, and R.J. Hunter) had scored 35 the (game) before that.”
If you’re wondering if R.J. is Ron’s son, well, he is. He had an off-night against Georgia State, finishing with nine points on 3-of-15 from the floor, but Kevin Ware – the Louisville transfer who suffered a gruesome leg injury during the 2013 NCAA Tournament – scored a game-high 18 points.
He was the only player on either team to reach double figures.
“I think the game got big,” Hunter said. “When you struggle early in games, you’re trying to figure it out, figure it out. But what happens is it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. The moment gets bigger. I could see it in the faces of our opponent. I saw it on our faces. I thought the shots were tight, and both teams are really good defensively. All of a sudden, you couldn’t get in a rhythm.”
It didn’t help that Georgia State (24-9, 15-5) was playing without Ryan Harrow, who is still nursing a hamstring injury. Harrow, a senior guard, averaged 18.7 points per game this season.
In the end, however, (R.J.) Hunter hit two free throws with 21.6 seconds to go to win the game, giving the Panthers their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001.
There was just one problem: (Ron) Hunter got hurt during the celebration.
“When I saw the red light go off, I actually jumped straight up in the air and by the time I got down on the ground, it felt like somebody had shot me in the back of my leg,” Hunter recalled. “I didn’t realize (what it was). I thought, ‘It can’t be my Achilles.’ I tore my Achilles when I was 25 and had the same feeling. I thought, ‘There’s no way.’ I took two steps and I fell.”
Then he started screaming.
“(R.J.) thinks I’m screaming with excitement because we won,” Hunter said, “and I’m screaming because I’m in pain.”
Georgia State’s team doctor diagnosed the injury on the spot. Yup, torn Achillies.
Thus, Hunter, 50, will be in a cast when his team plays No. 3 Baylor (24-9, 11-7) this Thursday at 1:40 p.m. ET. He will have to coach the game sitting down – something he has never done in his career.
“I haven’t sat down in 23 years,” Hunter said. “I coach standing up. I’ve never sat down. This will be the first time. I’m more nervous about that than I am my kids playing Baylor – because I’ve never done that before, and I just have no idea how that’s going to work.”
The Panthers expect Harrow to give it a go against Baylor, but they know they’ll at least have R.J., who averaged a team-high 19.8 points per game this year to go with 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.0 blocks.
Hunter said it’s been “unbelievable” to coach his son, a junior who is expected to be drafted.
“I said this the other day – and I know people have read about this – but if people ask me again, ‘Hey, should I coach my kid?, I would always say this: If you coach your kid, make sure he’s either the best player or the worst player,” Hunter said. “I don’t think you can do it in between. It’s been great. It’s been awesome. The hard part for me is I haven’t been able to be dad during the games. I can’t enjoy (his great plays) until we get home and afterwards. That’s the one thing I regret. I wish that when I coached him, I could have been more dad during the game when I know he may have needed a hug or just somebody to kind of get him doing instead of coaching (him up). That’s the hard part, especially at this level.”