After seeing his son, R.J., drill a 30-footer with 2.7 seconds left to beat Baylor, 57-56, on Thursday, Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter – confined to a stool after rupturing his Achilles last week – spilled onto the floor in celebration, health be damned.
Yes, it’s that time of year.
“I kind of feel like he forgot that he tore his Achilles,” Georgia State guard Kevin Ware said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We’re going to have to probably get him a seatbelt or something.”
That’s not a bad idea. It’s certainly been a wild ride for Georgia State (25-9, 15-5), which won regular-season and conference-tournament championships in the Sun Belt before knocking off Baylor, overcoming a 12-point deficit in the process.
“Emotions are high,” Ware said. “Just winning the game how we did, coming back from 12 down, R.J. going on a 9-0 run by himself – that’s big for us going into our game Saturday against Xavier. We couldn’t be more excited to play. I feel like all the butterflies – everything – is gone for me and my teammates. We’ll play a lot more loose, like we played those last five minutes.”
Ware, of course, is no stranger to NCAA Tournament heroics. He suffered a gruesome leg injury during Louisville’s run to a national championship in 2013 and would love to help Georgia State to the Final Four – or at least the Sweet 16.
“Coming from Louisville, a lot of people predicted us to win it all,” Ware said. “But being here at Georgia State, we’re the underdogs. We can just go out there and have fun, play our game and not really try to play tight and worry about the things that everybody’s predicting. We’re not the guys that everybody sees winning right now. It should be a lot easier for us.”
Ware knew when he arrived at Georgia State that the Panthers had a chance to be special.
“If you just look back at how great these guys did last year, you could tell that something good was going to happen this year,” he said. “They kind of got stung late in the conference tournament last year, losing to Lafayette – which kind of (prevented them from making) the NCAA Tournament. But all those guys came back and added me. I can bring some defense to the team. I kind of feel like we can make a run.”
Georgia State has won 10 of its last 11 games, including six straight.
“We kind of really got it going late in the year,” Ware said. “We had to deal with some injuries, but guys stepped up. And right now, I kind of feel like we’re playing our best basketball.”
It obviously helps having R.J., who is averaging 23 points per game in his last four games. Ware was asked to compare R.J. to former Louisville teammate Luke Hancock.
“Probably two of the best shooters I’ve ever played with in my life,” Ware said. “Luke is more of a crafty kind of guy. He’ll get under your skin. He wants to get you in foul trouble and things like that. But R.J. is just a straight scorer. He wants to embarrass you as much as he can. A lot of people were surprised by the last shot he (made), but I was just telling the media, that’s not new to R.J. He always makes shots like this religiously.”
Ware added that the dynamic between R.J. and his father is extremely positive.
“I’ve never played with a coach’s son, but just seeing how those guys come together when we go through tough games and pull it out, it’s pretty cool,” Ware said. “I honestly wish I could experience that feeling because I’m pretty sure our coach is a proud father after just watching his son make (that) shot.”
Hunter and Ware, of course, are hoping R.J. makes a few more like that against No. 6 Xavier (22-13, 9-9), which beat No. 11 Ole Miss, 76-57, on Thursday. The Panthers and Muskies tip off this Saturday at 6:10 p.m. ET.
Ware has seen Xavier play several times this season and has been impressed by center Matt Stainbrook, as well as guards Myles Davis and Dee Davis.
“They got a pretty good team,” Ware said. “They got some size and they got heart. They blew out Ole Miss yesterday, so we got to be prepared.”