Georgia State’s Hunter has chance at history

With a win over Mississippi State on Sunday, Ron Hunter can one of a select group who have become the all-time winningest men’s basketball coaches at two schools. Hunter holds the mark at IUPUI with 274 wins and can pass Bob Reinhart with 108 wins at Georgia State.

The other coaches, according to Georgia State’s sports information department:

Ronnie Arrow: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and South Alabama.

Jim Calhoun: Northeastern and Connecticut.

Leonard Hamilton: Miami (Fla.) and Florida State.

Lou Henson: New Mexico State and Illinois.

Gregg Marshall: Winthrop and Wichita State.

Johnny Orr : Michigan and Iowa State.

Georgia State men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter has an opportunity to achieve a rare feat if his team defeats Mississippi State on Sunday in Starkville.

With a victory, Hunter can become the all-time winningest coach at two schools. He holds the mark at IUPUI with 274 wins and can hit win No. 108 at Georgia State, which would move him past Bob Reinhart, who coached in Atlanta from 1985-1994.

“It means a lot because of the players and staff I’ve been around,” Hunter said. “It means more because it’s the second school I’d have a chance to do that at. It is a big goal for me. I’m proud of that.”

This will be the Panthers’ (4-2) third chance this season to defeat a team from a major conference. Georgia State’s two losses this season came at Auburn, 83-65, at Purdue, 64-56.

Both losses were marked by a huge difference in fouls called against the Panthers: 31 to Auburn’s 23, and 31 to Purdue’s 16, which lead to another gap in free throws. Georgia State hit 16-of-24 while Auburn hit 26-of-39, and the Panthers hit 7-of-11 while Purdue hit 25-of-37.

“We just can’t foul,” Hunter said. “Our defense will always be there. One of the hardest things to do is give those extra points. We can’t defend free throws.

“Both game were won on the line. It always come down to free throws. We can’t put them at the free-throw line.”

There is always room for debate, but here are Hunter’s top five wins in terms of importance and impact since becoming coach at Georgia State before the 2011-12 season:

March 19, 2015

Win No. 133

Where to start? R.J. Hunter’s 3-pointer from 30 feet with less than three seconds remaining clinched the upset over the third-seeded Bears and catapulted R.J. and coach Ron Hunter, who fell off his stool as the shot went in, into the national spotlight.

Isaiah Dennis shared a memory from that game: when the Panthers were trailing by as many as 12 with 2:53 remaining, senior Ryann Green became emotional at the thought of playing his final game. Dennis said the team came together during a huddle and promised that this wasn’t going to be Green’s final game.

The comeback was on as Georgia State won just its second-ever NCAA tournament game.

“A lot of it has to do with how we had to do it defensively,” Hunter said. “The game before we scored 38 points. And then scored 57 to beat Baylor.

“That’s the biggest thing. Usually when you upset yo have to hit a lot of 3s. but defense and 19 points on the bench with Harrow.”


Georgia Southern, 38-36

March 15, 2015

Win No. 132

It was probably the ugliest game in Hunter’s tenure, and it was certainly the most painful because Hunter suffered a torn Achilles tendon celebrating the win.

“I would never have thought you could score less than 40 points and win a game,” Hunter said. “Coaches preach defense wins championships but literally defense won that championship.”

The Panthers survived two missed 3-pointers in the final seconds as part of holding the Eagles to 22.9-percent shooting, including 19.2 percent on 26 3-pointers.

The Panthers were playing without Ryan Harrow, who suffered an injury in the regular-season finale against Georgia Southern. Harrow was averaging more than 19 points.

“I look back at, ‘How did we get that done?’ ” Hunter said.

The win helped erase the memory of losing to Louisiana-Lafayette in the finals of the tournament in 2014 and pushed the Panthers into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

“When Georgia Southern took that shot, it was very breath-taking,” Dennis said. “It almost looked good. I started to get a flashback from the year before when we lost to Lafayette. I started praying and then it clanked.”


VCU, 55-53

Jan. 4, 2012

Win No. 14

This was the first statement win for Hunter as Georgia State’s coach.

The Rams, coached by Shaka Smart, were among the darlings of college basketball after making the Final Four in 2011.

“I would rank this No. 1,” Hunter said. “When you take over a job in your first year, you need something that becomes a signature. That put us ahead of schedule.

“They (Georgia State) hadn’t won a lot of league games. That set the stage for our legacy for when we took the program and made it ours.”

The team was led by Jihad Ali, who scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, as the Panthers won their 11th consecutive game and snapped the Rams' eight-game win streak.

The win came on game after the Panthers upset Drexel 58-44 at the Sports Arena. The Dragons, one of the better teams in the CAA, had won six consecutive games.

“Beating Drexel and VCU was one of the biggest weekends we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hunter said.


Louisiana-Lafayette, 77-70

Jan. 23, 2014

Win No. 84

The comeback that started a rivalry.

R.J. Hunter scored 29 of his 33 points in the second half – including 12 consecutive during one stretch – to rally the Panthers past the Cajuns.

It was Georgia State's 10th consecutive win and snapped Louisiana-Lafayette's 10-game winning streak. It also sparked an epic tirade from Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, who said that Hunter got too many calls and that Ron Hunter spent most of the game standing on the court, saying they played "six on five."

Of course, the Cajuns would get their revenge when it mattered: the finals of the Sun Belt Tournament in New Orleans.


Western Kentucky, 77-54

Jan. 9, 2014

Win No. 81

The Hilltoppers were dominating the Sun Belt with back-to-back tournament championships in 2012 and ’13. The Panthers were in their first season in the conference.

But Curtis Washington scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Georgia State hand Western Kentucky its worst home loss in 15 years.

Five Georgia State players scored at least 10 points as Western Kentucky was held without a field goal for the first six minutes of the second half while the Panthers went on a 15-0 run.

“To go on road and win the way we won it was extremely impressive,” Hunter said.

Honorable mentions: defeating Tennessee Tech, defeating Georgia Southern to clinch the Sun Belt regular season title.