It came down to the wire in Jacksonville between No. 3 Baylor and No. 14 Georgia State. The difference?
Panthers’ junior guard R.J. Hunter. The 6-foot-6 Ohio native became a March Madness hero for the underdog with his final three-pointer with just three seconds remaining.
Heading into the game, Baylor was favored for the win. The Bears were the No. 3 seed in the West region bracket, finished fourth in the Big 12 regular season standings with a record of 24-9 (11-7) – with most of their losses coming by a margin of 10 points or less. Baylor was also ranked eighth in the nation for rebounds – averaging just under 40 per game.
Georgia State, on the other hand, came in as a No. 14 seed after earning an automatic bid for winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. But don’t underestimate the Panthers – they have two things on their side. A roster with transfers from big programs such as Kevin Ware, who used to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, and a “nothing to lose” attitude.
But it was the all-in, “nothing to lose” attitude that was the demise of Baylor in the round of 64. With an underdog matchup like this, there’s sure to be a hero for the underdog, and March 19, it was R.J. Hunter.
Here’s what you need to know about R.J. Hunter:
1. R.J. Is the Son of Georgia State Head Coach Ron Hunter
Head coach Ron Hunter, 50, started coaching the Panthers in 2011 – the year before his son R.J. would join the program.
In high school, R.J. helped lead Pike High School to a runner-up finish in the Indiana State Championships. He averaged 20.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game, while earning All-Marion County First Team recognition. R.J. was also named conference player of the year and an Indiana All-Star. He also shot 50 percent from the floor, 41 precent from behind the arc and 85 percent from the charity stripe his senior year.
Following graduation, he joined the Panthers’ program, under the direction of his father, in 2012. And he’s been a consistent performer ever since.
R.J. by the numbers:
2012-13: 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals
2013-14: 18.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.9 steals
2014-15: 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals
R.J. is also projected by DraftExpress to go as the No. 24 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
2. R.J. Hunter Hit the Game-Winning 3-Pointer Against Baylor
The Panthers teetered with the Bears throughout the entire game – you can see the full box score and play-by-play here. Down by three with just 20 seconds remaining, R.J. threw up a contested last-second prayer shot…and it went in!
The three-pointer put Georgia State atop Baylor with under three seconds remaining, and the Panthers were able to hang to claim the win and advance to the round of 32.
3. Ron Hunter Fell Off His Chair When the Shot Went In
In his third season with the Panthers, Ron Hunter made program history. He coached his team to a record of 24-9 overall, 15-5 in the conference and winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance – something that’s never been done in program history.
Clearly he was excited about the win, and, of course, he can add another milestone to his resume – the first win in the NCAA Tournament.
4. Ron Torn His ACL Celebrating the Conference Championship Win
Following the Panthers’ 38-36 win over Georgia Southern, Ron torn his ACL during the post-game celebration.
It all happened when his son jumped into his dad’s arms. Well, Ron fell to the court in pain and was forced to watch the rest of the celebration while seeking medical attention on the bench.
I tore my Achilles on the right side years ago playing basketball. “This was the exact same feeling, and I knew when I jumped up … I knew when I came down that I had done it (again), but instead of stopping right there, I wanted to go celebrate with my team. More importantly, I wanted to go celebrate with my son. You don’t get many opportunities like that.
5. R.J.’s Godfather is Former NBA Player Ron Harper
R.J.’s godfather is Ron Harper. Harper played with Ron at Miami of Ohio before turning pro. Harper went on to have a 15-year NBA career spanned across the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers.
Harper was selected as the 8th overall pick in the first round of the 1986 Draft. During his career, Harper was named to the 1987 All-Rookie Team and won five NBA titles, three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the Los Angeles Lakers.