R.J. Hunter kept shooting and shooting, and eventually lifted the 14th seeded Georgia State Panthers over the third seeded Baylor Bears.
Hunter’s three pointer with 2.7 seconds left finished off a crazy comeback from a 12 point hole and lifted the Panthers to a 1 point opening-game victory over Baylor in the NCAA tournament.
With coach Ron Hunter watching from the sideline on a rolling chair less than a week after tearing his left Achilles tendon celebrating Georgia State’s win in the Sun Belt Conference championship, R.J. shook off a bad shooting performance to come through in the clutch, when his team needed him most. After the game coach Ron said:
“It was a great game, but I’m not going to coach, I’m going to be Dad right now,” said Hunter, who fell off his seat and had to be helped up after R.J. made the second of two long 3-pointers that helped the Panthers advance. “This is my son. Proud of him. … I haven’t been able to do that for three years.”
Baylor who came into the game with a 24-10 record, got 18 points and 15 boards from reserve Taurean Prince, did not score again after taking a 56-44 lead with 2:54 remaining. Georgia State’s great defense forced three important turnovers and Hunter provided nine straight points, including a 3 pointer that had the crowd chanting “R.J. 3, R.J. 3, R.J. 3”. The guard’s steal lowered Baylor’s lead to just 3 points and then it was Georgia’s game at that point. He then drained an NBA range 3 to finish off the improbable rally.
“He just made a contested 3. There was nothing we could do about it. We did our job and he just made it,” Chery said.
Baylor coach Scott Drew was disappointed with how his team responded to the Panthers late surge. The Bears finished with 21 turnovers.
“All year we’ve executed down the stretch,” Drew said. “We’ve been a tough team, and I feel bad the way the last 5 minutes went.”
With second-leading scorer Ryan Harrow sidelined by a hamstring injury, it meant Hunter had to step up. The team was off to a slow start and Hunter was having a bad shooting performance. The Panthers fell behind 16-6 early in the game but quickly got back in with a 13-3 run. Georgia State took its first lead late in the second quarter, but quickly lost it after Prince made two free throws and a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Baylor once again got off to a nice start at the start of the second half with a 12-1 run that gave them a 10 point cushion. The Bears had control and it looked like the game was going to get out of hand. Rico Gathers extended the lead to 12, but then Georgia State’s rally came. The Panthers will now face Xavier on Saturday.
– This is Georgia State’s third appearance in the NCAA tournament and first since 2001. The other appearance was 24 years ago as a 16th seed.
– The Baylor Bears had won at least two games in each of their past three trips to the NCAA Tournament.
– This was Kevin Ware’s return to the NCAA Tournament, two years after suffering a bad leg injury while playing for Louisville in the Elite Eight.
– Only two Panthers had NCAA tournament experience prior to this game, Harrow and Ware.