Georgia State coach Ron Hunter must figure out a way to help two of his three point guards, who acknowledge they are struggling.
The season hangs in the balance.
The Panthers (13-10, 6-8) have lost six of seven and rank in seventh in the Sun Belt, with league leaders Arkansas-Little Rock (22-3, 12-2) coming to the GSU Sports Arena on Thursday and fifth-place Arkansas State on Saturday.
Getting Isaiah Williams and Isaiah Dennis on track is one of the keys.
“They know they aren’t playing very well,” Hunter said. “They play a very important position. They will be better at it, but it has been a struggle for us.”
Williams is in the midst of a season-long shooting slump that wasn’t predicted. He averaged 11.9 points as a freshman at Samford as mostly a guard who could stand, receive the ball and shoot. This season, he is averaging 8.1 points on 31.9-percent shooting and has missed potential game-winning layups in the past two games. He often tries to shoot off the dribble, and that isn’t his strength, according to Hunter. He said he is more upset that Williams often eschews good shooting opportunities in favor of lower-percentage chances like drives under the basket.
Hunter is more concerned with how Williams is running the offense. His turnovers (27) are almost equal to this assists (28) in conference play. There are time that Williams gets stuck dribbling, wasting seconds of the shot clock, with no discernible purpose. Hunter would prefer the ball move by passing. He said they may move Williams off the ball to try to get him going.
“I’m just trying to work through it, I’m struggling a little bit,” Williams said. “My teammates still believe in me.”
Williams said his confidence is still very high. He doesn’t know why his shooting is so poor. He says he stays in the gym and works. The shots just aren’t falling. He also can’t explain the team’s poor form, other to say that they aren’t doing the little things that Hunter wants done.
After scoring a career-high 18 points at Appalachian State seven games ago, Dennis seems hesitant to even shoot. He has scored just 15 points in the past six games. His minutes have been reduced to two against South Alabama and five against Troy.
“He started off the year great, but when things don’t go well he goes into a (mental) box, and it’s hard to get him out of that box,” Hunter said.
Dennis said it’s something he said he is working on because mentally he doesn’t feel like he loses focus.
“I know I’m not the point guard everybody wants me to be … but I’m still working to be the best player I can be,” he said.
With either running the team, the Panthers’ transition offense continues to be stuck in neutral, preventing a stressed offense from earning the highest percentage of shots.
To get something going, Hunter has turned to Austin Donaldson. The plan was to redshirt the freshman after he suffered a minor injury, but Hunter is playing him more and more. Donaldson got a career-high 10 minutes in the one-point overtime loss at South Alabama and doubled that two days later with 20 more in the one-point loss at Troy on Saturday.
Hunter said he would prefer to continue to bring Donaldson off the bench, but said he will see more minutes because he brings energy on offense and defense, even if it isn’t resulting in many noticeable stats.
“We are asking him to do more, and he doesn’t even have a grasp of the offense,” Hunter said. “But he plays hard and understands the game. That’s why he has had a little success.”
Neither Williams nor Dennis said they are concerned that Donaldson is getting more minutes because they want to win and trust Hunter to make the decisions to make that happen.
Hunter said he hasn’t experienced a production drought with the point guards since he took over as coach at Georgia State, so this is an unfamiliar problem. But he recognizes the immediacy in solving it.
“We know we have to keep improving, not just this year but the next few years at that point guard spot,” Hunter said. “I’ve been blessed with great point guards in this program. Those guys just have to get better. We have to recruit better.”