Western Kentucky is considered the class of the Sun Belt Conference. They have taken home the last two league titles and have enjoyed some great success over the years. But when they made their announcement to join C-USA next year, many wondered who would take over that role. Last night, that question was answered in a resounding way.
Georgia State (10-6, 3-0) made the five-hour trek from Atlanta to Bowling Green and laid a beat down of epic proportions on the home team for their seventh win in a row. You have to go all the way back 1998 to find a home conference loss as one sided as this one for the Hilltoppers (10-6, 2-1). And still, the Panthers could have played much better.
After leading 34-29 at the half, the Panthers opened the second half on a 15-0 run, holding the home team scoreless for almost a full seven minutes. By the time the Hilltoppers recorded a bucket, the game was all but over and they never got within single digits again.
Typically, a big Panther victory is lead by the likes of Ryan Harrow or RJ Hunter. Thursday night, however, saw Manny Atkins and Curtis Washington take over and the result was one of the most balanced scoring attacks the team has enjoyed all season.
Atkins lead all scorers with 18 to continue his more than impressive season. At one point in the first half he scored 11 straight Panther points on 5-7 shooting. He also grabbed five rebounds, dished out two assists and swatted three Hilltopper shots.
Local boy Washington had a large family contingent in the building and did not disappoint. Putting up the best numbers of his collegiate career, Washington scored 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. Washington missed two shots all night going 7-9 from the floor.
Washington destroyed the WKU bigs all night. His ability to make the offensive play when called upon opened up the floor for the rest of the team and forced WKU to abandon their man defense and go to a zone at times to get extra bodies on the Panther post man.
“I am also really proud of Curtis.” chimed Coach Ron Hunter “ He can be a dominate player inside and showed that tonight.”
The trio of Devonta White, Hunter and Harrow all chipped in with 13,12, and 11 respectively. White, the main Panther ball handler, also snagged three crucial rebounds, assisted three Panther baskets and picked the pockets of WKU on two possessions. The smallest man on the court most of the night relished from the top of the key and shot 50% from the floor.
Hunter claimed another spot in the record books in his young career after going 6-6 from the free throw line and extending his school record streak of makes to 25. Harrow, who started the game 0-7 from the floor, did all of his damage in the second half. As usual, his acrobatic style of play filled up the highlight reel and ignited the visitors late.
The team made a school record, and Diddle Arena record, 22-22 free throws, and held the Hilltoppers to just 28.6% shooting on the night. That makes the seventh time in three season a Hunter coached defense has held the opposition to under 30% shooting.
“Our offensive has been effective most of the season, but in the last seven or eight games, our defense has really started to step up,” added Hunter. “Defensively I really thought we hit a home run tonight.”
GSU also outscored WKU 36-10 in the paint, which was critical considering the Panthers only shot 18% from deep. The win streak of seven games is good for third longest in school history and is the Panthers fourth consecutive road win.
GSU returns home to the Sports Arena January 16 to face Arkansas State. WKU knows that to become an elite team you have to win the next game. How the Panthers play in the ASU game may say more about this team than any beating of WKU ever will.