Richmond, Va. -- Ron Hunter said if his team could just hit free throws, they could have won 27 games.
But they couldn't and they didn't. The problem may have ended their season for good in Saturday's 61-59 loss to George Mason in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball tournament.
The Panthers missed 13 of their 30 free throws, hitting a 56.7-percent clip, less than their 66.1-percent season average. They missed 10 of 19 in the second half.
With Georgia State's inability to put away Mason, the Patriots took the victory with a layup by Bryon Allen with 3 seconds remaining.
"It’s been an Achilles' heel of ours all year," Hunter said. "We didn’t make them when we needed to."
Of the team's eight losses to CAA teams this season, seven were influenced by missed free throws.
The Panthers won the second-most games (21) in school history. But he said the team played what was likely its worst game in its past 10 against the Patriots. He said the seniors played out of character, as if the moment was too big.
Now, Hunter and the team's six seniors are left to wait to see if they can go for win No. 22.
"We will get back and regroup," Hunter said. "I think this team should play somewhere.
"You can't tell me out of a 100 teams in postseason play, we aren't one of them."
The team needed to win the CAA tournament to earn the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Its RPI of 135 (as of Saturday) may not be high enough to earn an invitation to the NIT, which means it may have to wait on an invitation to the CIT or CBI tournaments.
The CBI is a 16-team tournament that begins on March 13 and ends with a best-of-three series that begins on March 26 and ends on the 28th. Oregon won the tournament last year. Virginia Commonwealth won it in 2010. Hunter's IUPUI team made it to the second round of the CBI in 2010.
The CIT field will be announced on Sunday, March 11. The field, which included 24 teams last year, has a selection committee that includes former Georgia coach Hugh Durham and former Georgia State coach Lefty Driesell, according to its website. First-round games begin March 13 and the championship game is March 28.
That was small consolation Saturday night. As angry as Hunter was after Friday's win over Hofstra, an anger born from dissatisfaction with the conference awards announced Thursday, he was as sad Saturday. He tried not to cry, but choked up while trying to give his thoughts about the loss to Patriots.
"We proved a lot of people wrong," Hunter said. "We proved you can win games at Georgia State. Proved we can be a factor in the CAA, and will be a factor.
"We put everything into this, every one of these guys put everything into this, to the point I let my health go."
Hunter will have hip surgery, but the hip has become so bothersome he was forced to wear sneakers to minimize his pain during the tournament.
Despite their free throw issues, Georgia State had a chance to win. They tied the game on a steal and layup by James Fields with 33 seconds remaining.
George Mason coach Paul Hewitt called a timeout with 18 seconds left to set up the final play. Starting on the left side, Allen dribbled right, cut down the side of the free-throw lane and went under the basket for the shot. By going under the basket, he kept Eric Buckner from blocking the shot.
"I tried to cut him off, but he went under and I didn’t want to foul," said Buckner, who led the CAA in blocks (106) this season.
"Bryon made a bit-time shot," Hewitt said.
The Panthers got the ball back with a few seconds left, but Josh Micheaux's desperation shot wasn't close.
"I wish we would have played better," Hunter said.
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