The courses Georgia State University and Hofstra University have taken this season have been neither similar to each other, nor linear in nature.
Although they lost their first three contests this season, the Panthers became the early surprise of the Colonial Athletic Association. Starting with a win over McNeese State on November 18, Georgia State reeled off eleven consecutive wins; the stretch included at home against Drexel and on the road against Virginia Commonwealth. After that 11-3 start, the team has cooled off somewhat and entered Saturday’s contest with a 15-8 (7-5) record.
Conversely, Hofstra’s record (8-16, 2-10) would indicate that the team has struggled mightily. After starting out by winning three of its first six games, the Pride had won only five of its next 18 contests. But the team has been more than competitive in its loss; three of the losses were by one-or-two points, and another two losses were by six points. Furthermore, one of those five wins was against a strong Iona program, who currently leads the MAAC with an 18-5 record.
Both teams are led by exceptionally-talented individuals. Coming into the game, Hofstra’s Mike Moore was the CAA’s leading scorer (19.6 PPG). Forward Nathaniel Lester was ninth with 14.0 points per contest, while Dwan McMillan was second in assists per game (4.4). Meanwhile, Georgia State was led by Jihad Ali’s 12.6 points/game, and Eric Buckner led the conference in field goal percentage (58.9%) and blocked shots per game (3.2). Buckner was also only nine blocks shy of setting Georgia State’s single-season for blocks, with 72.
On Saturday the Panthers got off to a slow start offensively, as their first field goal attempt came more than three minutes into the game. Once they got started, though, they quickly took control. Down 5-3 after six minutes, they scored 13 consecutive points over the next five minutes to take a 16-5 lead. Continuing their strong offensive performance, George State scored on six straight possessions between the 7:39 and 3:45 marks to take a 31-12 lead.
Just as important as hitting six of nine first-half three-point attempts was the Panthers’ ability to shut down Hofstra’s Moore. The senior missed his first four shots and failed to score until 36 seconds were left in the half. Georgia State employed mostly zone defense in the half, and while the Pride’s players patiently moved the ball, they connected on only eight of 29 first-half shots.
Hofstra shot the ball better to start the second half, scoring on its first four possessions. Moore asserted himself more than in the first half, chipping in seven points in the first five-plus minutes of the half. By the midway point of the half, the Pride had gradually cut into the Panthers’ lead and were down only 46-39 with ten minutes left.
But after more than three scoreless minutes by both teams, Georgia State’s Rashaad Richardson hit a three-point attempt to give the Panthers a ten-point lead with 6:33 left. Georgia State’s defense would keep Hofstra at bay from that point, allowing only four points the rest of the way en route to a 59-43 win.
Devonta White led four Panthers in double-digit points with 15; Bucker blocked six shots in addition to his twelve points. Nathaniel Lester matched his season average with 14 points, while Moore scored eleven points in the second half to finish with 13.
Following the game, Hofstra’s coach Mo Cassara credited Georgia State’s defense for his team’s offensive struggles.
“The positive is that we held them to 59 points,” Cassara said. “The negative is that we scored only 43. Today was just one of those days when the ball didn’t go in the basket. Georgia State does many different things on defense.”
Moore also credited the Panthers, calling them “a great defensive team” against which it was hard to get an open look Saturday. Indeed, the quickness and wingspan of the Panther defenders disrupted Hofstra from running its offense effectively. Although the Pride committed only ten turnovers, they were frustrated into shooting only 29.3% from the field.
This week Georgia State is host to both Northeastern and Delaware, while Hofstra travels to both George Mason and Drexel.