ATLANTA--On a night when Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter coached in his bare feet in support of charity, his Panthers knocked off Colonial Athletic Association foe UNCW, 75-61, before a season-best crowd of 2,698 at the GSU Sports Arena.
James Fields scored a career-high 21 points, 16 of them in the second half, and grabbed seven steals as Georgia State won for the 12th time in its last 13 games and improved to 12-4, 4-1 in the CAA. Coupled with George Mason's loss at Drexel, the Panthers now stand in a three-way tie for first-place in the CAA, with Mason and Old Dominion.
Hunter, Georgia State's first-year head coach, has coached a game in bare feet each of the last five seasons in support of Samaritan's Feet, an organization that provides shoes to underprivileged children around the world. The Panthers wore special orange uniforms symbolic of the orange in the Samaritan's Feet logo.
Fields, whose seven steals are one shy of the school record, was one of four Panthers in double figures as Jihad Ali and Devonta White scored 13 points each and Eric Buckner added 11 points, along with six rebounds and five blocked shots.
"I am really proud of my team tonight," commented Hunter after the game. "There were a lot of things that could have distracted them, some of which I think did in the first half, but they came together in the second half and played extremely well.
"I challenged James Fields at halftime and he played the way a senior captain should in the second half. I am also proud of the effort of Rashaad Richardson off the bench. He gave us some big minutes and made a few clutch shots when we had to have them."
Richardson finished the game with seven points, including a clutch three-pointer late in the game.
In a game that featured 13 lead changes and seven ties over the first 30 minutes, Fields gave Georgia State the lead for good with a pair of free throws that put GSU ahead 48-46 with 10:12 left. That began a decisive 11-1 run for the Panthers as Fields followed with a steal and layup for a four-point advantage. Buckner's dunk, off a feed from Josh Micheaux, pushed GSU's lead to 52-46. A three-pointer by White and then a dunk by Tony Kimbro Jr., put the Panthers ahead 57-47 with 7:19 left.
After UNCW's Adam Smith hit a jumper to cut the Seahawks' deficit to 57-49, GSU reeled off six straight points, punctuated by Fields' layup, to build its lead to 63-49 with 5:08 to play.
The Panthers started slowly in the first half, as the Seahawks opened a quick 5-0 lead. GSU responded with a 13-0 run, capped by a Devonta White lay-up.
UNCW responded and took the lead 17-16 before the two teams went into the half tied at 27.
Shooting 38.7 percent in the first half, the Panthers responded by shooting 58 percent in the second half, and committed a season-low five turnovers in the game. The GSU defense forced 18 turnovers, which the Panthers converted into 26 points.
UNCW, led by Keith Rendleman's 23 points and 13 rebounds, fell to 7-8, 3-2 CAA.
The Panthers host another game Saturday as Towson visits the GSU Sports Arena for a 2 p.m. tipoff.
Fans can visit GeorgiaStateSports.com or call 1-886-GA-STATE to purchase tickets for the game or for tickets for the Panthers remaining seven home games.