Ron Hunter likes the way his Georgia State team plays defense.
He said he will find out if he really likes it when they play at No. 14 Iowa State on Monday.
After dispatching Tennessee Temple by school-record 60 points in Friday’s opener, the Panthers know the Cyclones will offer the season’s first test.
“We are going to throw our guys right into the fire to see where we are,” Hunter said.
Though just the second game, there is much on the line for the Panthers, who have lost five straight to ranked teams. Of more importance, a win would begin to legitimize the team’s NCAA tournament aspirations.
Hunter said he believes the Cyclones, which opened with a 93-82 win over Oakland, have the talent and coaching to be a Final Four team.
“What a great way to see and judge where we are,” he said.
Through one game the Panthers know a little bit about themselves. The team got contributions from familiar faces as well as a few surprises in beating the Crusaders. R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow combined to score 49 points. Big men Curtis Washington and T.J. Shipes combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds, giving the team points in the paint that it didn’t consistently get last year.
“We’ve never had that type of production together,” Ron Hunter said. “There were times when T.J. and Curt in the gym by themselves couldn’t score that many points.”
But the key to defeating the Cyclones will start with the understated star from Friday’s win: Kevin Ware.
With Ware playing a variety of roles in Georgia State’s various zone schemes, the Panthers limited Tennessee Temple to 36.4-percent shooting and 25 turnovers that were turned into 47 points. Ware, whom Hunter called a team-changer on defense, finished with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
In a key for Monday, Georgia State’s transition defense limited the Crusaders to zero fast-break points.
The Cyclones, led by Georges Niang’s 30 points, scored 14 fast-break points in their opening win to complement its 42 points in the paint.
“If we don’t do a great job it can get ugly,” Hunter said. “We have to do a great job defensively in transition.”
The Panthers learned a little bit about what to expect against a team from a “big” conference in road losses last year at Vanderbilt and at Alabama.
The Panthers played decently in a six-point loss to the Commodores but followed that with arguably their worst performance of the season in a 17-point loss to the Tide, which physically overpowered them.
Hunter said this year’s team has better chemistry to this point and each player’s role is more clearly defined than on last year’s. At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Hunter was still working out if Devonta White or Harrow would play point, was working Washington into the lineup and didn’t have much yet coming off the bench.
This year, Ware is established at point, Washington has a year as a starter and the bench contributed 37 points in the opening win.
“I think we are more equipped to do it,” Hunter said.