Another No. 3 seed from the Big 12 has gone down in dramatic fashion.
No. 14 seed Georgia State rallied on a 13-0 run – 12 of which came from R.J. Hunter – in the game’s final three minutes to shock Baylor 57-56 in Jacksonville.
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After the Bears missed a free throw with 15 seconds to go, Hunter drained a deep trey with 2.6 seconds remaining to give the Panthers a wild win.
Hunter’s father, GSU head coach Ron Hunter, tore his Achilles when the Panthers won the Sun Belt Conference over the weekend. From his courtside perch (a chair with wheels), Hunter fist-pumped so hard that he fell from his chair in celebration in one of the best moments of the day thus far.
Hunter, the team’s leading scorer, had only two points until late in the second half. He ended a scoreless drought with two free throws with less than three minutes remaining that cut the Bears' lead to 56-46.
From then on out, he didn’t miss.
First it was a 3-pointer to cut the lead to seven. Then he hit a jumper on a setup from Kevin Ware before a steal and a layup brought the Panthers to within 56-53 at the 1:20 mark.
Tough defense, a free throw from Isaiah Dennis and Baylor miscues set up for a dramatic end sequence. The Panthers’ possession was messy, but they got the ball in the hands of their best player. R.J. Hunter didn’t miss.
The Panthers mainly relied on two men to propel their offense all season – Hunter and Kentucky (and N.C. State) transfer Ryan Harrow. Harrow sat out with a hamstring injury, allowing the Bears to focus defensively on Hunter, who averages just shy of 20 points per game.
Even with Hunter struggling and Harrow out, the Panthers hung tough – in large part due to 21 Baylor turnovers. Additionally, senior guard Ryann Green and junior forward Markus Crider pitched in with 11 and 10 points each for GSU.
After Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had a game-high 18 points, put up four quick points and Royce O’Neal (nine points, eight boards) hit a three to go up seven with 7:56 to go, it looked like the Bears would finally pull away. The Baylor lead ballooned to 12 on two Rico Gathers (nine points, 10 rebounds) free throws with 2:54 to play, but the Bears took their foot off the gas pedal. From then on out, Baylor committed four turnovers and never scored again as Hunter’s heroics began.
Baylor became the second Big 12 No. 3 seed to be upset on the tournament’s opening day after Iowa State dropped a tight one to UAB in the South region. No. 11 seed Texas was also knocked off by Butler, to give the league an 0-3 start. The Big 12 was lauded as the best conference in the country for much of the season, but that is not holding up so far.
Meanwhile, Georgia State looks like a team that could make some noise – especially if Harrow is able to return for a round-of-32 matchup against the winner of Xavier-Ole Miss. Could the Panthers could be this year’s Cinderella team? It remains to be seen.
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