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This year has been a rollercoaster for the Georgia State Panthers mens basketball team. They finished 19-11 and 12-6 in the Sun Belt Conference. Although the record signifies a great season, there has been a lot of emotions spread throughout the year.
The Panthers started off 5-5 before going on an eight game winning streak. As expected, their confidence grew and they felt like they couldn’t be beat. Hitting on all cylinders, it seemed like the ceiling came crashing down as they lost three in a row including two losses due to last second shots.
Coach Ron Hunter believes that the team had learned from the heartbreakers although it had them with their heads down at the time. “It has motivated us to play better defensively and take care of the basketball” said Hunter.
And that it did as the Panthers defense turned up a notch causing them to lead the conference in field goal percentage against holding teams to shooting .416. What is more impressive is that they also are No. 1 in the conference shooting .481 although posting last from the foul line shooting .646 percent on the year.
They head into the conference tournament with the the No. 2 seed and earned a first round bye. Winning the last three out of four, Georgia State will rely on their leading scorer, senior forward, Jeremy Hollowell which is also the veteran leader. “It’s definitely something that I’ve grown into, especially since I wasn’t looked at in the past,” said Hollowell. “I’ve embraced it and blessed with this great opportunity to take advantage of it.”
Hollowell realizes that he goes as far as the team goes. “You’re only as strong as your team so I try to get them going first. I know I can get going at any time so I can get my guys going first.” mention Hollowell. The senior has been able to score in many ways and believes that he’s versatile enough to adjust when need to.
With the veteran growing into a new role, the freshman guard D’Marcus Simonds has had his growing pains himself but has benefitted from it. “I’m younger than everybody but actions speak louder than age. I’m just glad I have such a huge role right now and I can really mold into it as I get older.” said Simonds.
Simonds has been known for his fiery demeanor on the court but don’t get it confused with being disruptive. Its a way he shows his passion for the game he loves. “He’s a good kid and I equate it to a wild horse, you gotta get that horse together and when you do, you have a stud. And that’s what we think we have with D’Marcus,” said Hunter.
The offense has been very good when the team gets going but the Panthers struggled mightily getting into a rhythm early. Hunter realized that he needed to tweak the offense. “We wanted to put pressure on teams and so we inserted Jeff [Thomas] in the starting lineup to stretch out the defense and it allows D’Marcus to get to the basket.” said Hunter. “If we can jump on teams early in the tournament, it makes it that much easier for us.”
The offense in the last four games has received a boost from adding guard Jeff Thomas in the lineup. The sharp shooter has been nothing but impressive shooting the ball from beyond the arch. “As long as I can contribute to the team whether I’m starting or on the bench, it doesn’t matter to me,” mentioned Thomas.
Thomas creates lanes for slashing and space for cutting to the basket or movement because his skill set. Another player who has been a big lift on both ends of the court has been guard Devin Mitchell. Mitchell a transfer from Alabama University in 2016, Mitchell as of late has provided that spark off the bench offensively and defensively. “He started of slowly this year because he hadn’t played in about two years but now he has his legs back and will be big for us in the tournament. He’s able to get that eight to 15 points of the bench and that will be huge for us,” said coach.
Mitchell knows his role and has accepted it. “Whatever it may be, I don’t really want to say just scoring. That’s really the advantage I have. I can see from the bench what needs to be done and I just go out there and do it.”
The Panthers seemed prime for another Sun Belt Championship. Their first priority is don’t beat themselves. “Our slogan is we’re not going to go down to this tournament and let Georgia State beat Georgia State. If we don’t beat ourselves we don’t think we can get beat.”
They open up tonight against Lafayette Ragin Cajuns in New Orleans.