Because my previous game, South Carolina State at Kennesaw State, ended after two overtimes, I arrived right before halftime for the Liberty at Georgia State game. Although I had lived in Atlanta most of my life, and Georgia State used to play Belmont in the Atlantic Sun, I had never visited the Georgia State Sports Arena.
The building in which the Arena is housed looks just like a classroom building and was actually pretty tough to find. Google Maps put it at 10 Peachtree Center. 10 Peachtree Center turned out to be a dark corner of campus that looked like many other dark corners in Atlanta. After driving around campus and asking a few clueless passerbys where the arena was, I found my way to the parking deck (free, thanks GSU!) and into the arena. The ticket takers were gone and a lone arena security guard was all that was between the street and the escalator to the arena. She let me in and I got in more free basketball (Double OT at KSU).
The half time score saw the Panthers leading by nine, 37-28. I got to catch most of the halftime show, which consisted of an odd game of basketball tic-tac-toe and a performance by the five member Georgia State dance team. I asked another yellow clad security guard what he thought of the first half, and he said that Georgia State was doing really well defensively, but seemed to be turning the ball over a little too much. I thought that was good, maybe Liberty would have a chance to get back into this with some three point shooting.
Get back into the game, Liberty did, but not with three pointers. They did it through a combination of sloppy offensive possessions from Georgia State, whose players are no doubt still adjusting with the in-your-face, pull you out of the game if you make a mistake coaching style that new head coach, Ron Hunter brings to the table, and patient offensive possessions orchestrated by Sophomore Point Guard, Jesse Sanders. Inside basket and mid-range jumpers from the Flames got them within two with 8:34 remaining at 47-45. That's when the second takeover happened.
Jihad Ali, who only had two first half points, began torching the Flames from distance. Between the second-to-last media timeout and the final media timeout, Ali went three of three from Superhoop territory and four of four overall to send the crowd into a frenzy. Ali ended up being the high scorer for the Panthers and joint top scorer with Tavares Speaks of Liberty with sixteen. He began a 22-3 run that showed what the Panthers are capable of. What also really showed was how well the perimeter defense was from the Panthers. While the Flames were able get shots in the paint and from mid-range, their three point shooting was non-existent. Most of their looks were contested and near the end of the shot clock and they ended the game one for eleven.
In just a few months as head coach, Ron Hunter has the Panthers defending much better as a unit. Hunter's exit from IUPUI last year was a strange one for me, because he had so much success there over the past several seasons. However, I realized that the Georgia State opportunity was too good an opportunity for him to pass up. He comes to conference that has had two recent Final Four appearances and seems to be getting multiple bids consistently. He is also in a state with a wealth of high school talent. He saw this an oppottunity to build something special at Georgia State, and with his background, I wouldn't bet against him to succeed.
at GEORGIA STATE 72, LIBERTY 50 11/26/2011
LIBERTY 2-5 (0-0) -- D. Wright 5-8 0-0 12; J. Sanders 4-10 5-7 14; T. Speaks 7-16 2-3 16; A. Burrus 2-6 0-0 4; J. Sanders 2-7 1-2 5; D. Minaya 2-9 0-0 4; C. Phillips 0-2 0-0 0; J. Vander Pol 2-3 1-1 5; S. Baird 0-2 2-4 2; H. Gliedman 0-1 0-0 0; E. Layer 0-3 0-0 0; A. Smith 0-0 0-0 0; K. Assinesi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-59 11-17 50. GEORGIA STATE 3-3 (0-0) -- D. White 4-12 6-6 15; J. Micheaux 1-4 5-7 7; J. Fields 3-6 1-2 8; B. McGee 4-12 1-2 11; E. Buckner 4-6 1-2 9; J. Ali 6-6 0-0 16; J. Vincent 2-3 1-1 5; T. Kimbro Jr. 0-0 0-0 0; R. Richardson 0-1 0-0 0; T. Gamble 0-0 0-0 0; J. Green 0-0 0-0 0; R. Green 0-0 0-0 0; K. Shaw 0-0 1-2 1; J. Taylor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 16-22 72.
Three-point goals: LIB 1-11 (D. Minaya 0-3; J. Sanders 1-1; S. Baird 0-1; J. Caleb Sanders 0-3; E. Layer 0-3), GSU 8-19 (B. McGee 2-8; J. Ali 4-4; J. Fields 1-2; R. Richardson 0-1; D. White 1-4); Rebounds: LIB 29 (J. Sanders 7), GSU 36 (J. Micheaux 10); Assists: LIB 11 (C. Phillips 4), GSU 17 (J. Fields 6); Total Fouls -- LIB 18, GSU 15; Fouled Out: LIB-None; GSU-None.