Markus Crider sparking Georgia State

Georgia State’s best big man may actually be their smallest big man: Markus Crider, who is 6-foot-6.

But he’s more than just a center. He’s also a power forward, small forward and shooting guard. Lastly, he’s one of the reasons the Panthers have won their past two games and are on the verge of securing at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season title, the school’s first since 2001-02 when they were in the Atlantic Sun.

“He brings so much versatility, it’s just incredible,” coach Ron Hunter said. “He will come up with the big rebound, the big steal.”

Georgia State needs one more win, or a Western Kentucky loss, in the final four games to secure a share of the conference title. A Panthers win and Hilltoppers loss would secure the title outright. The Panthers (20-7, 13-1) take on Texas-Arlington (12-14, 7-7) on Thursday in the first of three consecutive road games.

That title scenario could be much more complicated if not for Crider. He scored a career-high 10 points in Thursday’s win over Louisiana-Monroe. He topped that with 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of Saturday’s 80-77 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Hunter said Crider was the reason the Panthers rallied to defeat the Ragin’ Cajuns. Crider entered during the second half and dunked to tie the score at 41-41 with 16:06 left. He then began to show why Hunter has no fear putting him in at center.

Crider slithered in to grab an offensive rebound near the basket and put it back in to give the Panthers a 43-41 lead. He did it again from nearly the same spot 22 seconds later to push the lead to 45-41.

In less than two minutes, Crider scored six points and grabbed two offensive rebounds. The Panthers had three offensive rebounds in the entire first half.

“You’ve got to have angles,” Crider said, in describing how he outmaneuvers taller players to grab rebounds.

Crider said he generally goes to the opposite side of the basket from where the shot was taken. He finds a hole and plants a leg to establish position.

He has a tremendously strong upper body, which allows him to hold off opponents, and he’s a quick jumper, which, combined with his anticipation, gets him to the ball a split-second before some of his opponents.

“He’s very smart,” teammate Manny Atkins said. “Even though he doesn’t have a lot of height, he can play like a big man.”

But Crider is more than a rebounder. Georgia State’s defense generally plays better when Crider is in the game, no matter the position, because Hunter said he’s probably the best at communicating where everyone needs to be in the various zone defenses the team uses.

Hunter said the Panthers generally play better on defense in the second half because, after reviewing the opponent’s game plan, they know at what position they can play Crider.

Crider said that vision is a skill developed growing up as a point guard on offense.

“Seeing what’s about to happen, who is coming where, it’s just a natural ability,” he said.

And Crider can score, even though he’s really shown that skill in the past two games. On a team filled with shooters, Crider said he hasn’t needed to show a jump shot because that’s not his role.

“My offensive game is pretty much on the backburner,” he said after the win over Louisiana-Monroe. “I’d rather have 10 assists than 10 points.”

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