Richmond, Va. -- Dressed in all black, with his eyes squinting because of the production lights, Georgia State coach Ron Hunter looked and sounded like an angry man after his Panthers rolled over Hofstra 85-50 on Friday in the Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball tournament.
"The coach and the team have a chip on our shoulder," he said. "It’s magnified by a 100 right now."
The anger was seemingly directed at those who didn't vote Eric Buckner as the conference's defensive player of the year. The 6-10 center finished second to Old Dominion's Kent Bazemore, despite leading the conference in blocked shots (106). The results were announced Thursday.
Using that disappointment as fuel, Buckner scored 21 points on 7-of-7 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. When pressed, Buckner would only say that he was slightly disappointed. Hunter wasn't as serene.
"If he’s not the best defensive player in this league then’s something wrong," he said. "He changes the game. He CHANGES the game. I've never seen anything like him. He doesn’t have to say it but his coach will do it for him."
Hofstra coach Mo Cassara seemed stunned afterward, but agreed with Hunter's description of Buckner, who was named to the conference's all-defensive team and to the all-conference third team.
"If he’s not one of best-five players in the league," he said, his thought trailing off. "And he plays within himself, just a great player."
The sixth-seeded Panthers will play third-seeded George Mason (23-8) at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Patriots defeated the Panthers 61-58 earlier this season. With the win, the Panthers have advanced to the second round of the CAA tournament five times in the past seven years, but have never advanced to the semifinals.
Led by Buckner, the Panthers did something against Hofstra that they've rarely done this season: put away a team early. Georgia State (21-10) turned a seven-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half into a 22-point lead with 3:13 remaining with a swarming defense that forced 10 turnovers in the half, including four on four consecutive possessions.
The Panthers built the lead to 37 in the second half, allowing Hunter time to rest his starters. No Panther played more than 30 minutes as they try to rest their legs in an attempt to win four games in four days and earn the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
After watching the Panthers limit his team to 34.8-percent shooting, Cassara said Georgia State is more than capable.
"They’ve got size, they’ve got seniors, they’ve got speed," he said. "Their style of play is very tough to play against."
James Fields added 14 points and Devonta White added 13 more as the Panthers shot 59.6 percent from the field to set a school record for points and scoring margin in the CAA tournament. It was also the most points they've scored against a CAA team this season. But the team's anger doesn't seem to be focused on just Hofstra.
"We didn’t come here to win one game," said Jihad Ali, who scored nine points. "We came to win the tournament."
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