It’s always intriguing when two of the country’s top Mid-Major programs decide to play a same-season, home-and-home series of games. This year the Green Bay Phoenix and Georgia State Panthers, 6th and 7th in the latest MMM Power 15, provided us with this treat.
In the first game, Georgia State defended it’s home court with a resounding 72-48 win over Green Bay. If the Phoenix were going to exact revenge, two things had to change. In Atlanta, GSU’s dynamic backcourt combo of R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow combined for 43 points while Green Bay’s four starters not named Keifer Sykes combined for just 11 points on 4-for-28 shooting.
What a difference 23 days and a swap of home courts made this afternoon.
Hunter and Harrow did combine for a solid 33 points, but did it on 14-of-37 shooting with five turnovers. Hunter was just 1-of-8 from behind the arc. Green Bay, meanwhile, survived a mediocre (by his lofty standards) performance by Sykes thanks to incredible play by Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse, and Alfonzo McKinnie. Led by a career high 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting by Love, the trio combined to score 53 points. Fouse added seven assists, five rebounds, and four steals to his 14 points.
Early on, it appeared a repeat of the December 4th dominance from Georgia State was in order. The Panthers extended a lead as high as 11 points in the first half, but one Panthers field goal over the final five minutes let Green Bay close the gap to two at the break.
In the second half, the Phoenix asserted control early leading by seven with 13 minutes to play. The Panthers then answered with the flare we’re used to. Hunter and Curtis Washington combined for an alley-oop slam. Markus Crider put back a missed shot with an athletic one-handed slam. Hunter then showed why he’ll be a first round draft pick converting a three shot foul, making his only three pointer of the game, and scoring on a skilled drive through the lane. The result was a 16-8 spurt that gave GSU a one point lead with 5:59 to play.
The Phoenix refused to lose, though, as the trio of Sykes, Love, and Daeshon Francis took over. Francis scored his only six points of the game on a pair of three-point plays, Sykes scored four points and dished four assists, while Love topped off his career day with eight points during a very decisive game-ending 21-3 run.
The split of the two games didn’t settle much between these two Mid-Major powers, but after each suffering conference tournament heartbreak last season, both appear poised to make serious runs at March success as we flip the calendar into 2015 and start conference play.