If Georgia State becomes one of eight teams in the Sun Belt tournament, it can’t afford any more halves like it played in Thursday night’s loss to Little Rock.
The Panthers scored a season-low 20 points on 5-of-22 shooting in the second half of the 57-49 loss, its seventh loss in eight games. Part of the poor shooting can be traced to the inaccuracy of leading scorers Jeremy Hollowell and Kevin Ware, who combined to miss 16 of 20 shots in the game, including 9 of 10 in the second half.
The Panthers host Arkansas State on Saturday and will play at Georgia Southern on Tuesday. Both are pivotal games. The Panthers (13-11, 6-9) are two games ahead of the teams chasing them for the final tournament spot in New Orleans. The Red Wolves and Eagles are ahead of them.
Hunter said he hasn’t thought about the standings, but it may be time to do that. There are five games remaining. It would be odd not to see the defending champs in the tournament, especially when they were the preseason pick to finish second in the regular season.
“Pressure is we have to keep getting better,” Hunter said. “Pressure for me, you have no idea the kind of pressure I put on myself. I don’t know where we stand. I don’t look at anything. My whole thing is getting this team better.”
Getting better will start with getting his two best players going.
Hollowell missed 9 of 12 shots and Ware 7 of 8 in the loss to Little Rock. After the game, Hunter said they simply must play better, particularly at the end of games.
Ware, a senior, isn’t playing to his strengths, according to Hunter. With the offense in a weeks-long rut, Hunter said Ware must try to get to the basket for layups or free throws, instead of settling for long jump shots. Ware didn’t shoot any free throws Thursday, the second consecutive game that has happened. In the past four games, he has attempted four free throws. He scored four points in the loss at Troy and two against Little Rock.
“I’m disappointed in him because he knows the way to get out of it is to get to the free-throw line,” Hunter said.
Hollowell’s slump is more mystifying. After struggling for six games, he seemed to have regained his touch in last week’s losses, with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting against South Alabama and 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting against Troy.
But he couldn’t get anything going against Little Rock. When he was able to get inside, either by grabbing an offensive rebound or by a cut to the basket, he usually was surrounded by taller Trojans and given no room to maneuver to get off a shot.
“They just have to play better,” Hunter said. “Hopefully they will before the end of the season.”
Hunter was pleased with his less-experienced players. He singled out freshman point guard Austin Donaldson, who had two of the team’s five field goals in the decisive second half, and Malik Benlevi, who he said did a lot of good things. Sophomore forward Jordan Session tied a career high with 11 points, all in the first half, in a career-high 25 minutes.
“Nothing different outside of our lineup than our leading scorers aren’t getting their points in the game,” Hunter said.