JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — R.J. Hunter kept firing, eventually lifting 14th-seeded Georgia State over third-seeded Baylor and knocking his father right off his seat with the biggest shot of his life.
Hunter’s 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining capped a comeback from a 12-point deficit and lifted the Panthers to a 57-56 opening-game victory over the Bears in the NCAA tournament Thursday.
With Ron Hunter working the sideline on a rolling chair less than a week after tearing his left Achilles tendon celebrating Georgia State winning the Sun Belt tournament championship, R.J. shrugged off a poor shooting performance to come through when his team needed him most.
“It was a great game, but I’m not going to coach; I’m going to be Dad right now,” said Hunter, who fell off his seat and had to be helped up after R.J. made the second of two long 3-pointers that helped the Panthers advance. “This is my son. Proud of him. ... I haven’t been able to do that for three years.”
Baylor (24-10), which got 18 points and 15 rebounds from reserve Taurean Prince, did not score after going up 56-44 on two free throws with 2:54 left.
Pesky Georgia State’s full-court trapping defense forced three critical turnovers and Hunter scored nine straight points, including a 3 that brought chants of “R.J. 3! R.J. 3! R.J. 3!” from Panthers fans at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The junior guard’s steal and layup trimmed Baylor’s lead to 56-53, and he drained another NBA-range 3 for the win after the Bears’ Kenny Chery missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could have put the game away for the Bears.
“He just made a contested 3. There was nothing we could do about it. We did our job and he just made it,” Chery said.
Baylor coach Scott Drew felt the first long 3 got Hunter going, and that the Georgia State star “showed his versatility in different ways” the rest of the way.
“All year we’ve executed down the stretch,” Drew said. “We’ve been a tough team, and I feel bad the way the last 5 minutes went.”
When Prince’s desperation heave from beyond halfcourt bounced off the backboard at the buzzer, Ron Hunter sat on his stool holding his head while R.J. and teammates mobbed one another in the middle of the court.
“I saw him cannonball off his chair,” R.J. said. “I told him, they’ve got to get him a chair with a back or something because that wasn’t going to work.”
Georgia State will play Xavier on Saturday.