The banner was unveiled, and the blowout began for the Georgia State men’s basketball team.
The blue-and-white flag honoring last year’s Sun Belt Conference champions was presented to the team before Friday’s opener against Tennessee Temple at the GSU Sports Arena.
With more than repeating that regular-season title as their goal, the Panthers destroyed the overmatched Crusaders 115-55 behind 25 points from Ryan Harrow and 24 from R.J. Hunter. The Panthers made 62.5 percent of their shots while limiting the shorter Crusaders to 36.4 percent.
“We are getting better,” coach Ron Hunter said. “I really like this group.”
There weren’t too many surprises in the win.
R.J. Hunter, last year’s leading scorer and Sun Belt player of the year, missed 13 of his 14 3-pointers in the team’s two exhibition games, causing some to worry, especially with a tough slate of non-conference games that will start at Iowa State on Monday.
Those problems went away because Hunter said he worked to improve his footwork during Friday’s shootaround.
“I realized I was worried about everything but my feet,” R.J. Hunter said.
Tennessee Temple’s players did their best to deny Hunter any space, but they eventually tired, and Hunter eventually got some looks. He made back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half to give the Panthers a 48-18 lead with less than three minutes left in the first half. He dropped in another long one at the buzzer to give the Panthers a 54-25 halftime lead. He made 5 of 9 3-pointers as part of 7-of-14 shooting. He added a team-high eight assists.
“I tried to give him some shooting tips and he walked away from me,” Ron Hunter said. “He said, ‘Dad I got this.’ He played a great floor game.”
Harrow, like Hunter also a preseason first-team all-conference player, was much too quick for any of the Crusaders who tried to guard him. He finished with 25 points, hitting nine of 15 field goals.
But it was more than just the Harrow and Hunter show Friday.
Kevin Ware, who transferred to Georgia State earlier this year, showed the quickness he had at Louisville as part of its national championship team. He was a menace playing a variety of spots in the Panthers’ zone defenses and showed a solid jumper to finish with 12 points, six rebounds, three steals and five assists.
“People don’t understand what type of player he is,” Ron Hunter said. “He changes a defense, changes a program defensively.”
The points came from everywhere as Hunter went to his bench early and frequently in the first half and later in the second half.
T.J. Shipes, a junior, who has been more of a physical presence in limited minutes in his first two seasons, showed a nice shooting touch and aggressiveness around the basket. Hunter said he thought the “light came on” for Shipes during the team’s trip to Costa Rica during the summer. After making only 11 field goals last season, Shipes made five Friday to finish with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“He looks like that kid we recruited,” Hunter said. “He’s been unbelievable.”