GSU players celebrate. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)

Georgia State looks to finish the season strong

The Georgia State basketball team has been through a lot of adversity this season.

The Panthers dealt with early-season injuries that possibly cost them some games. They went on a eight-game winning streak and then lost the next three conference games inside 50 seconds each time.

The team got back on its feet Monday with a 67-51 victory over Texas State. After all that, coach Ron Hunter decided the team needed a break after Monday’s game.

“Mentally we’ve been a mess. It’s been such a mental grind for our kids, I just told them I don’t want to see them until Thursday,” Hunter said. “Mentally it’s been a grind. You’re trying to fight for a championship. The way you lose; the way we lost, the kids are trying.”

“We are going to take some time away from basketball for about 48 hours. We’ll get ourselves ready on Thursday, but right now we need a mental break.”

Despite such a roller-coaster season so far, the Panthers are 17-10 and are third in the Sun Belt Conference. With three games left, the Panthers must finish strong to stay within the top four in standings to get a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

When asked about what he thinks it’ll take to finish, Hunter gave three keys to finish strong.

“Don’t turn the ball over,” Hunter said. “Our offense has been very good this year, but when we turn the ball over, it gives the opposing team extra opportunities to score and that has been what has cost us in the losses.”

“Georgia State has beaten Georgia State and that’s the problem. We said for the rest of the year let somebody else beat us. We took a vow; Georgia State will not beat Georgia State for the rest of the year.”

The second key is getting those easy points from the charity stripe.

“Free throws, we need to take advantage of the extra points when those opportunities are given to us,” Hunter said. “We have had some games where we have done it pretty well and others we have struggled.”

The Panthers are shooting 64 percent from the free-throw line this season. The final key for the Panthers is to finish strong.

“Maintain leads, we have proven to be able to get up on other teams with our defensive ability,” Hunter said. “Once we get up, we need to maintain that lead and build on it. We have let teams hang around that that is when we have gotten in trouble the most.”

The Panthers final three games are at Little Rock (10th in conference), at Arkansas State (second) and a home game against Georgia Southern (fifth). The Panthers will have no choice but to finish strong if they want that first-round bye.

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