Panthers rout Western Kentucky for 7th win in row

Georgia State defeated Western Kentucky 77-54 on Thursday in what could be considered one of the most impressive wins in coach Ron Hunter’s two-plus years leading the Panthers.

The Hilltoppers were the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt. But the Panthers scored 13 consecutive points to open the second half to break open the game. The Hilltoppers’ first points in the second half didn’t come until more than six minutes passed. It was their worst loss at home since a 22-point defeat to Arkansas State in 1998.

This victory, combined with last week’s win at South Alabama, which was picked to finish second in the conference, should mean the Panthers are the team to beat in the Sun Belt. They have won seven consecutive games to improve to 10-6, 3-0 in the conference.

"Two really good road wins, I don't know how many teams in the league will be able to do that," Hunter said.

Here are three thoughts on the win:

Hunter called it. He said hitting free throws and limiting turnovers will keep teams in games. Well, the Panthers hit a school-record 22-of-22 from the line and committed 10 turnovers. Conversely, Western Kentucky missed eight of its 16 free throws and had 16 turnovers. Those mistakes wiped out their rebounding advantage of plus-8.

Balance, balance, balance. Five Panthers scored at least 11 points, led by Manny Atkins' 18. Ryan Harrow bounced back from an 0-for-7 first half to score 11. The Panthers shot 48 percent, including a dismal 3-of-16 night from the 3-point line. Curtis Washington added 16 points, many on dunks in the second half, Devonta White 13 and R.J. Hunter 12. Really, the Panthers' two best scorers, Hunter and Harrow, had off nights and the Panthers still won.

"I like the balance," Hunter said. "We have so many guys that can hurt you, you can't focus on just one guy."

Defense, clap-clap-clap, defense. The Panthers held Western Kentucky to 28.6-percent shooting, the seventh time under Hunter Georgia State has held a team to less than 30-percent shooting.

Here are the others:

.241 FIU, 2011-12

.255 W&M 2011-12

.271 VCU 2011-12

.293 Hofstra 2011-12

.283 Tenn. Tech 2011-12

.278 Monmouth 2012-13

.286 WKU 2013-14

Now, do I think the Panthers’ defense was particularly tenacious? No, I don’t. They were killed on the offensive boards in the first half.

But the Hilltoppers couldn’t hit a shot in either half. The first half was just bad luck. The second half, Washington blocked or altered several shots during the Panthers’ opening run.

"I thought defensively we really hit a home run tonight," Hunter said.

What to make of this win?

The final result indicated a beatdown of intense effort on offense and defense.

Watching on my tablet, it didn’t really seem that way to me, though, which may be why Hunter kept the starters in throughout the game.

So, there’s still plenty to build upon despite the one-sided nature of the final score: the Panthers must improve their defensive rebounding, they must work on breaking full-court pressure (which was an issue in the second half), and the switches on defense still need to be fine-tuned.

As I noted, the Panthers did this and really didn't play a game that was as good as the defeat of Virginia Commonwealth two years ago, or the demoltion of William and Mary at home.

But I'm guessing that fans don't want to see Georgia State playing its best basketball just yet.