Georgia State eager to extend feel-good story vs. Xavier
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Ron Hunter hobbled onto the podium with assistance from the little scooter he's been using to get around since suffering the most talked about injury in the NCAA Tournament.
The coach's torn Achilles tendon introduced him and Georgia State to basketball fans throughout the nation, but the Panthers are proving they've got game, too.
The 14th-seeded Sun Belt Conference champions will be underdogs again Saturday when they face No. 6 seed Xavier (22-13) in a West Region matchup at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
But make no mistake about it, Georgia State (25-9) feels it can play with anyone in the tourney after knocking off No. 3 seed Baylor in its opening game.
One more victory and they'll head to Los Angeles for the regional semifinals.
''The confidence level of our guys right now, it's unbelievable. They're enjoying this,'' Hunter said. ''I told them we're not going to be one of those teams that you get here and you nervous and all that. Man, we're going to the beach, we're enjoying this.
''If we win Saturday, we're going to bus to L.A. We're just going to take off, and this is going to be like the Brady Bunch, Partridge Family. This is fun for us,'' the 50-year-old coach said. ''But make no mistake about it, now, I've got a good basketball team. ... I've been saying that from day one, and this is the stage to be able to show that.''
Musketeers coach Chris Mack isn't focused on the attention Georgia State is receiving.
''I think fan bases in general get caught up in that. Players don't,'' said Mack, who's trying to lead his team to the Sweet 16 for the third time in six seasons as Xavier's head coach. ''We don't worry about the nation's feel-good story.
''They can find another story after Saturday if we do our job.''
Mack is correct, but right now there's no escaping how Hunter's injury, plus the shot his son, R.J., made to lift the Panthers over Baylor, have made Georgia State the darlings of the tournament.
Hunter tumbled from the rolling chair he used to work the sideline when R.J.'s NBA-range 3-pointeer put Georgia State ahead with 2.7 seconds remaining, capping a 13-0 run to finish the game.
Both became instant favorites on the Internet.
''I'm going to be honest, I You-Tubed it like 50 (times) on my own,'' R.J. said of the winning shot, adding he probably saw it another 50 times on television.
Hunter, falling from a blue stool that the coach said was under ''lock and key'' at a secret location Friday, provided his players with fodder for a fresh barrage of jokes.
''The memes are crazy. I've probably seen 100 different memes from coach,'' junior guard Kevin Ware said. ''They've got him falling outside of the White House. That's probably the funniest one I've seen. They've got real creative with it.''
Hunter is having fun with it, too.
''That chair has more protection than the president of the United States right now. ... I don't know where they got it from, but that chair, it will stay with me for the rest of my life,'' the coach added. ''Win, lose or draw, that chair is going to be in my house with me the rest of my life.''
Georgia State is garnering most of the attention heading into Saturday's game, but Xavier is accustomed to flying under the radar.
Even though the Musketeers have been in the NCAA Tournament nine of the past 10 years, sophomore Myles Davis said ''people don't look at us as a big-time program.''
''And the thing is, we take that and use it to our advantage,'' Davis added. ''We try to come to every game and try to prove people wrong.''
Some things to watch in Saturday's matchup:
RE-CASTED: Ron Hunter said he cracked the cast on his left foot when he fell off his chair. A doctor was on the way to re-cast it Friday.
PROUD TRADITION: Mack led the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2012. They've made it six times overall and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2004 and 2008.
STATUS UNKNOWN: Ryan Harrow, Georgia State's second-leading scorer, has been slowed by a hamstring injury the past two weeks. He didn't dress for the Panthers' opening game, but will Saturday. Hunter said there's a chance to could play some as a reserve.
PERSONAL STAKE: Ron Hunter is a native of Dayton, Ohio, and faced Xavier several times as a player at Miami, Ohio. He said winning Saturday personally would mean more to him than beating Baylor because he grew up in the Midwest, still has family in Ohio and the respect he has the Musketeers' program.
IT's BEEN AWHILE: Xavier leads the all-time series 2-0 but hasn't played Georgia State since the 191-82 season.