Gregarious Hunter eager for more NCAA magic at Georgia State
ATLANTA (AP) — The greatest moment in Georgia State history still makes Ron Hunter beam.
It makes D’Marcus Simonds cringe.
Simonds has seen replays of the final seconds of the Panthers’ 2015 NCAA Tournament first-round upset of No. 3 seed Baylor so many times. Too many times, actually.
It was classic NCAA Tournament bracket-busting magic — with a different twist created by Hunter, who etched his place in tourney lore with his foot in a cast due to an Achilles injury.
Hunter coached the game while sitting on a stool in front of the Panthers’ bench. His son, R.J. Hunter, sank a long, last-second 3-pointer that gave Georgia State the unlikely 57-56 win. The coach instinctively raised his arms in a celebratory pose, triggering momentum that sent him tumbling off his stool, grinning all the way to his hard landing on the court.
Ron Hunter still savors the moment. He posted a link to video of the sequence on his Twitter account last week.
Georgia State again is a No. 14 seed and will play No. 3 seed Houston on Friday in a Midwest Region first-round game in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Another opportunity for a major upset inspires comparisons to the 2015 game.
“I don’t even like hearing it, honestly,” Simonds said Monday. “Every time they ask ‘Where do you play ball?’ and I say ‘Georgia State’ and they’re like ‘Oh yeah, R.J. Hunter and his dad when he fell off the stool.'”
Simonds shook his head. He wants to help create another memory for Ron Hunter and the Panthers. He wants his own NCAA moment to remember.
That would be just fine for Hunter. He’s eager for more NCAA Tournament glory. Thanks to Hunter, Georgia State has become a mid-major with a knack for bracket-busting . Before the memorable upset of Baylor, Hunter’s 2001 team was a No. 11 seed which upset No. 6 Wisconsin in the first round.
Senior Malik Benlivi said the gregarious Hunter “always gives us confidence.”
“He’s energetic,” Benlivi said. “We feed off his energy all year long.”
Georgia State is making back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time in school history after losing to Cincinnati in the first round last year.
“I thought last year we were a little nervous,” Hunter said. “This time I think we’ll be ready.”
Georgia State (24-9) earned the NCAA bid by beating Texas-Arlington on Sunday for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title. On the long bus drive back from New Orleans, Hunter wanted his team to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show but realized the TVs on the bus didn’t work.
Hunter provided the remedy with an impromptu stop at a small roadside restaurant in Mississippi — “a truck stop or something,” he said.
“We walk in with all my guys and there were about seven guys in there about 85 years old in there having a beer,” Hunter said. “They had one TV.”
Soon the channel on that TV was switched to the NCAA selection show.
“They were happy to turn it over,” Benlivi said. “They just sat there and watched it with us and started cheering when we were cheering.”
It was just more NCAA magic, Hunter style.
The coach believes his team has a chance against what he acknowledged is a strong Houston team.
“We weren’t really concerned about who we were going to play,” Hunter said. “When you’re in the NCAA Tournament, all the teams are good. … We’re a better team than we were last year in the NCAA Tournament, there’s no question about that.”
Hunter said he doesn’t bring up comparisons to the 2015 upset of Baylor “because it’s such a different team.”
“All our guys know that,” he said. “They hear it all the time. … They’re always compared to that team. This team wanted to be better. They’ve heard so much about that shot and so much about that team, they wanted to exceed expectations.”