Cinderella lost her glass slipper — I mean blue stool.
Fourteen-seeded Georgia State upsetting three-seeded Baylor on Thursday afternoon in Jacksonville was definitely one of the highlights of the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
As with most March Madness upsets, the scene was fairy-tale-like. Entering the game, Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter was confined to a swiveling royal blue stool. It sounds funny, but it later made for an incredibly vivid moment.
The fourth year head coach at the Atlanta public university was forced into this inconvenient position after tearing his Achilles while celebrating his team’s Sun Belt conference championship on March 15.
Achilles or not, the Panthers, entering the second round contest at 24-9, did not seem to stand a chance against the Big 12 power. They hung with the Bears in the first half, only trailing by three after the first 20 minutes. It seemed like the Panthers had a good chance at covering for the bettors as the near ten-point underdog, but not many thought that they could come out on top after the final buzzer.
Committing only six turnovers, Georgia State hung with the Bears down the stretch and put itself in a position to win its second ever NCAA Tournament game. However, down 12 with 2:54 remaining in the second half, it seemed that the Bears had gotten the best of the Panthers.
Not so fast. Never turn your back on a Panther, especially if he is a Hunter.
R.J. Hunter, the son of Ron, took over from this point on until the final buzzer. Hunter netted nine consecutive points, while the defense held to cut the Panthers’ deficit to just three with 1:20 remaining. A minute later, sophomore guard Isaiah Dennis drew a foul and then converted one of two from the foul line, making the score 56-54 with 19 seconds remaining.
Georgia State immediately fouled Baylor senior guard Kenny Cherry. Cherry, an 84 percent free throw shooter, was not so sweet, missing the front end of the one-and-one. Georgia State junior T.J. Shipes corralled the rebound. The underdog was down two with 14 seconds remaining and had the basketball with a chance to tie or even win with a three-pointer.
The Bears defense came to play, Brian Urlacher-style, on the Panthers’ final possession and did not allow the Panthers inside the three-point line. In fact, they didn’t allow Georgia State anywhere near the line twenty-feet-nine-inches from the basket. It was all but over, but the Bears forgot about the hunting panther.
R.J. Hunter found himself nearly 30 feet from the hoop with time winding down and knocked down what became the game-winning bucket from straight away downtown.
It was one of the most incredible shots under pressure in NCAA Tournament history, and father and coach Ron could not contain himself. The blue stool could no longer hold him up as he tumbled to the floor at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in jubilation.
Luckily for Ron, Baylor called a timeout in an effort to regroup and to steal the game back with 2.6 seconds left. The game resumed, and Ron witnessed his team pull off the upset in dramatic fashion after Baylor’s final shot failed to find the bottom of the bucket.
The Hunters, both R.J.’s shot and Ron’s tumble, will forever be cemented in March Madness history.
To add another wrinkle to the Cinderella story, Kevin Ware was also one of the Panthers starting guards in the game. You probably remember Ware as the Louisville player who suffered a gruesome leg injury in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Ware returned to play for Louisville last season, but aggravated the injury after playing only nine games, and later decided to attend Georgia State to finish out his college basketball career with two years of eligibility remaining.
Unfortunately, it struck midnight for Georgia State on Saturday as their run ended with a 75-67 loss to sixth-seeded Xavier. Lightning did not strike twice for the Panthers, as the Musketeers shot nearly 68 percent from the field en route to advancing to the Sweet 16. The Panthers concluded the 2014-2015 season at 25-10 and will forever be remembered.
In light of the win over Baylor, Ron Hunter has reportedly received interest from upper echelon teams that are in search of a new head coach.
With the position currently open at Fordham, who knows? I highly doubt it, but say it only semi-sarcastically. I’ll provide the maroon stool.
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