Though coach Ron Hunter said his team didn’t talk about it, this wasn’t how Georgia State wanted to leave the Colonial Athletic Association.
Playing their last game in the conference because they are ineligible to play in the CAA tournament, the Panthers were beaten 90-84 in overtime by Northeastern on Wednesday in the Sports Arena. The defeat kept Georgia State (15-16, 10-8) from securing its best finish in its seven years in the conference and a chance at posting back-to-back winning records.
“We didn’t talk about that, didn’t talk about the postseason,” Hunter said. “With this group, we didn’t want the moment to get too big. I didn’t have to motivate them to play hard.”
It may not have eliminated Georgia State from being considered for one of the lesser postseason tournaments, but Hunter said he does need to think about his team’s health. He said most of his players are mentally and physically tired.
The difference on Wednesday was free throws: Northeastern (19-10, 14-3) hit all 27 of its attempts, white the Panthers missed their last five in the final seven minutes of regulation. Georgia State finished by hitting 12-of-19, a much lower percentage than the 17 consecutive they hit in the second half of last week’s win at James Madison.
“We had the opportunity twice to put the game away with free throws and we didn’t do it,” Hunter said.
Devonta White, a 74.5 percent free-throw shooter, missed a chance to complete a three-point play and give the Panthers a one-point lead with 1:15 left. R.J. Hunter, a 78-percent free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:23 left. James Vincent, the team’s lone senior, missed two free throws with 4:17 left and Manny Atkins missed the second of two attempts with 7:20 left.
“At the end it was the little things, we just didn’t make those free throws at the end,” Hunter said.
While the Panthers were missing their free throws, Northeastern’s Zach Stahl completed consecutive three-point plays to give the Huskies a two-point lead with 1:25 left in regulation. White's layup in which he missed the free throw tied the game at 72.
In overtime, White hit a jumper to cut the Huskies’ lead to 1 but Joel Smith answered with a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a four-point lead with 23 seconds left. Rashaad Richardson missed a 3-pointer and Smith added two free throws to give the Huskies a six-point lead with 12 seconds left.
“Those guards are so good,” Hunter said of Smith and Jonathan Lee, who combined to score 40 points. Atkins led Georgia State with 26 points.
There were some highlights:
Georgia State honored Vincent, who was playing what is likely his last home game, barring participation in one of the lesser postseason tournaments.
R.J. Hunter broke the school’s freshman scoring record of 515 points, formerly held by Matt O’Brien (1989-90), with the game’s first basket, a 3-pointer in the corner. Hunter finished with 13 points in the game to give him 527 this season.
White became the 17th player in school history to reach 1,000 points in a career. He needed 24 and got exactly that.
“The biggest bright spot is I know we have a good team,” Ron Hunter said. “These kids could have given up. They knew they weren’t playing for anything. I thanked them for that.”
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