Georgia State defeats Young Harris

Georgia State broke a four-game losing streak with a 71-54 victory over Young Harris at the GSU Sports Arena on Wednesday.

In a good sign for the Panthers, as the schedule begins to toughen again, Devonta White scored 16 points to lead the Panthers (3-5). He also added three rebounds, two assists and a steal. He made six of his nine shots.

“Most important thing that came out of this was Devonta White, getting his confidence back,” coach Ron Hunter said.

Curtis Washington added 17 points and eight rebounds as the Mountain Lions had no one who could match with Georgia State’s 6-foot-9 center. Ryan Harrow, who is struggling with an undisclosed injury, scored four points in 20 minutes. Hunter said he estimates Harrow is 10 days about being fully healthy. R.J. Hunter, who is also nursing an injury that Ron Hunter wouldn’t disclose, added 14 points.

But the story was White, who struggled in the losing streak, averaging 3.5 points and shooting 22.7 percent. The on-the-ball aggressiveness he showed in the previous three seasons also was missing; he had only three steals during the streak.

“I just had to find my way in the offense,” White said. “It’s new me being off the ball. I just needed to keep working hard. Coach said keep playing defense and the offense will come.”

White was on the ball much more on Wednesday than he has been this season, and Hunter said that will be the case the rest of the year.

When Harrow transferred in from Kentucky, Hunter said that White would remain the point guard. However, Harrow soon began to transition into the point guard. Though White shifted some to an off-guard the previous years, he wasn’t used to not having the ball most of the time.

As a result, Hunter thought White lost his focus on offense and defense.

So he made the decision before Wednesday’s game that White will move back into the point guard spot and stay there the rest of the season.

“Everybody wants to quickly give up on kids, if I’ve got a fault, my fault is I’m really loyal to my seniors,” Hunter said. “Part of my job as a head coach is to get him better. I don’t give up on my kids like that.”

Lacking White’s spark, the Panthers lost their previous four games by an average of 7.8 points. The losses came in myriad ways. They missed crucial free throws and were out-rebounded in a 61-60 loss to Florida International. They couldn’t defend 3-pointers against Elon (90-85), couldn’t defend or shoot 3’s against Canisius (79-71) and were out-muscled by Alabama (75-58).

So, even though Young Harris is a Division II school, Wednesday’s game had the potential to be problematic for the Panthers because the Mountain Lions are one of the highest-scoring Division II teams, averaging 94.7 points per game. Seven of their players were averaging at least 11 points per game.

But the Panthers’ defense found solutions, at least for one night. The Mountain Lions were held to 33.3 percent shooting, and only two players scored at least 12 points.

It was the second consecutive game that the Panthers held a team to less than 65 points.

Hunter said his team has worked on nothing but defense since returning from Florida International. They will do so twice on Thursday and again in a morning session Friday. Hunter used the same type of focused practices two years ago when he first arrived and that team got off to a rough start. Hunter said he even went so far as to go back to those practice schedules and use them this week.

Hunter said the goal was to simplify the defense so that they could stop dribble penetration, a problem during the losing streak. They also reduced the “slides,” which are the double-teams that come on the wings and in the corners. Often during the streak, Georgia State was being too aggressive in those situations, which was opening up shots on the other side of the court.

“Offense will come but defense has to be steady,” Hunter said.

Young Harris got to within 17-15 with 8:39 left in the first half. But the Panthers went on an 8-0 run to open a 25-15 lead. Washington scored three points, and White added four more in the stretch.

Behind White’s 10 points, the Panthers held a 34-22 lead at halftime.

Georgia State’s lead in the second half twice was cut to nine, the last time on a Herdie Lawrence 3-pointer with 12:44 left, but that’s as close as Young Harris would get.

“This is the third straight game I’ve seen progress,” Hunter said.

Etc.: The Panthers play at Southern Miss on Saturday. … Isaiah Dennis, a freshman guard from Eagle's Landing High, will redshirt this season because of a foot injury that's not healing properly, Hunter said. Dennis has played in two games, totaling five minutes. … Young Harris received $2,000 to play Georgia State.

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