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Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications
"Lefty" Driesell and Chris Collier cutting down the nets of the Panthers two tournament championships.

Men's Basketball: History 50 Years in the Making

Courtesy: Mike Holmes/Sports Communications
Release: December 16, 2013
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All week leading up to Friday night’s basketball game with in-state foe Georgia Southern, GeorgiaStateSports.com will take a look at the history, the players and the moments that make up the 50th anniversary of Georgia State men’s basketball program at the Division I level. This is the first of a five-part series journeying through 50 seasons of GSU hoops.

Be sure to come back on Tuesday when Dave Cohen, the Voice of the Panthers, sits down with GSS.com to talk about what he has seen during his 31 years calling games. And be sure to use social media to share your favorite memories about the top moments, players and games in Panther history.

Join the action on FacebookTwitter or Instagram all week long.  


The Early Years

Although Georgia State University celebrated its 100th anniversary during 2013, it wasn’t until the 1963-64 academic year that the athletic department gave scholarships and first played at the NCAA Division I level. On April 13, 1961, the first $535 pledge started the program. Dr. Francis Bridges was able to get the Board of Regents to approve the program to move to Division I and the Georgia State Panthers were officially born.

From a basketball perspective, the early years were lean. The first-year program coach by Herbert “Stoney” Burgess lost its first 12 games before scoring an 80-60 victory against the College of Charleston. That was the only win the team would see in Year 1, finishing 1-21.

Men's Basketball 50th Anniversary Series
Monday: History 50 Years in the Making
Tuesday: A Sitdown with Dave Cohen
Wednesday: Dave Cohen's Top-10 Games
Thursday: Dave Cohen's Top-10 Players
Friday: Dave Cohen's Top-10 Moments

Single-digit season win totals continued to be the norm throughout the 1960s as Dick Wehr and Jack Waters led the program. To this day, Waters has the second-longest tenure of any GSU basketball coach, at eight years, which came over two separate stints in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Things changed ever-so-briefly in 1975-76 as Waters led the Panthers to their first winning record, 12-11, as GSU won its first seven games, a record that has only been matched once since. The season included wins over Georgia Southern, VCU, Southern Miss and a 69-62 victory against Georgia Tech.

The winning season propelled the Panthers into its first campaign in the Sun Belt Conference for the 1976-77 season as Georgia State and five other schools helped form the league. Although the Panthers only won 10 games and went 2-4 in conference play, it was believed to be the start of moving in the right direction in a league that sent a team to the Final Four in its first year of existence.

Unfortunately, following the winning season, 12 more losing seasons ensued.

There were some highlights during that time. On Dec. 13, 1983, the Panthers shocked Tennessee on Rocky Top, 52-50, in a game that many called the program’s first signature win.

Following a 2-26 1984-85 season in which Georgia State joined the Trans America Athletic Conference, Bob Reinhart was hired as coach when the university started to put more emphasis in the program. Reinhart slowly started to build the program and wins came more frequently.

The Reinhart Era

Bob Reinhart brought legitimacy to the Panther program for the first time in history. His nine seasons coached and 107 victories are both tops in program history. Win-by-win, the legitimacy of the program grew.

In his sixth season, 1990-91, Reinhart built arguably his most special team. Led by players like Chris Collier and Phillip Luckydo, the Panthers rolled through the season hanging around the .500-mark, but it was what happened in DeLand, Fla. that changed the history of the program.

March 5, 1991

Georgia State entered the TAAC tournament at the Edmunds Center in DeLand, Fla. as heavy underdogs and one game under .500 for the season. The Panthers had never won a conference tournament game and had been swept by host Stetson during the regular season. Most thought the trip would be like many of the others to the conference tournament: a quick trip for a banquet, a game and then a return trip home. On this date, history changed for the fifth seed.

Not only did Georgia State win its first TAAC Tournament game, but it did so by knocking off host Stetson on its home floor, earning a 70-64 victory behind 26 points from Luckydo.

Collier had 18 points and seven rebounds, and Zavian Smith added 13 points for the fifth-seeded Panthers, who had lost their previous TAAC Tournament games by an average of 28 points.

Trailing 45-42 with 13:30 remaining, Georgia State scored six straight points to take the lead for good. Stetson cut the score to 48-47, but from there, the Panthers’ defense took over, holding Stetson to zero field goals and just one free throw over the next nine minutes. By the time the Hatters managed a bucket with 2:35 on the clock, Georgia State had built a 63-50 lead.

March 6, 1991

Collier scored 25 points and pulled down 13 rebounds as Georgia State scored its second straight upset, knocking off top-seeded UTSA 94-84 to advance to the TAAC championship game. It marked the second day in a row the Panthers defeated a team they had been swept by during the regular season.

Luckydo contributed 20 points and seven rebounds, and Smith added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Panthers.

Georgia State took its first lead less than one minute into the game and never looked back, leading 38-27 at the intermission and building a 19-point advantage in the second half. UTSA tried to mount a comeback in the second half, but the Panthers sealed the win by hitting 12 of 16 free throws in the final five minutes.

The Panthers shot 61 percent (33-54) from the field, including 85 percent in the second half, and outrebounded UTSA 44-32.

March 7, 1991

Georgia State entered the TAAC championship game having never beaten UALR in 16 tries. The Trojans were heavy favorites, but the Panthers’ Cinderella run was not yet complete.

Collier and Luckydo combined for 40 points as Georgia State completed an improbable run to the NCAA tournament with an 80-60 victory in the TAAC title game, earning the Panthers’ first postseason berth.

Georgia State handed the two-time defending champions their first TAAC tournament loss in nine games and snapped that lengthy losing streak against UALR. Luckydo, a native of Little Rock, Ark., finished with a game-high 21 points while helping hold James Scott, UALR’s leading scorer, to 12 points. Collier added 19 points and nine rebounds to earn MVP honors.

“After you were beaten by each of the teams that beat you twice during the regular season, you would think we were discombobulated,” Reinhart said. “The truth was that we were playing well at the time and went down there with some confidence.

“After we beat Stetson, a lot of the fans started cheering for us, so we had really nice support down there. UTSA was a good team, but that game really wasn’t even that close game. Going into the UALR game, I knew Georgia State had never been to the NCAA tournament, but I was confident and so was our team.

“We had a little sign made up that said ‘Win this game and our mission is accomplished’. I will never forget with just a few seconds to go, we threw that sign on the floor and our guys went crazy. It was a great weekend.”

Back on campus, students and fans celebrated. A few days later it was learned that Georgia State would not have to travel far to play in the NCAA tournament. Instead, they would just drive up Marietta Street to the old Omni to face Arkansas.

“Obviously I thought the win was special,” Reinhart said. “When we got back to Atlanta, I saw that Bobby Cremins, who was coaching at Georgia Tech at the time, said in the Atlanta paper one of the most significant sports achievements in Atlanta history. That just showed the type of publicity we received going into the tournament.

March 15, 1991

“Getting to play in the NCAA tournament was great,” Reinhart continued. I always have said that the one of the main purposes of a basketball or football program at Georgia State is the publicity that you can get. We got great publicity. We even road the MARTA from Georgia State to the Omni for the game. We put in 50-cents a token for each player while other schools were spending $15,000 on travel to get to the game. It had everyone talking.”

Georgia State’s first trip to the NCAA tournament was a giant step for the program. The 16th-seed Panthers went toe-to-toe with the Nolan Richardson-led Arkansas Razorbacks, one of the best programs in the country at the time.

The Panthers played a strong first half, but eventually Arkansas’ depth and vaunted fullcourt press wore down Georgia State to the tune of a 117-76 victory.

Collier led Georgia State with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Smith added 14 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots.

“I remember the Arkansas game well,” Reinhart said. “We knew it was an uphill battle going in. At the same time, our philosophy and what I told the players was we were going to play four-minute quarters. At the end of eight minutes, we were ahead 13-4 and had missed two free throws. The first half was pretty competitive. It was a great-great experience and a lot of the Georgia State people came out to support us.

“I look back on the entire experience and I think we did a pretty good job.”

The magical season had ended, but Reinhart’s magic was done just yet.

The Following Year

Entering the 1992 TAAC tournament, the Panthers were 14-13 and quickly picked up wins against Centenary and Mercer to play for a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, this time against in-state foe Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Ga. The Panthers had won the first two games of the tournament on their home court, but the finale would be played down I-16.

Unfortunately, the run of five straight conference tournament wins came to an end at the hands of the Eagles, 95-82. At the time, no one knew that it would be 10 years and two coaches later before the Panthers would return to the Big Dance.

Following the 1993-94 season, Carter Wilson was hired to lead the program. During this time, Georgia State was growing -- and growing quickly. Atlanta was set to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and GSU president Carl Patton was starting to put a great deal of emphasis on athletics.

Following 11-, 10- and 10-win seasons, Wilson was let go and the history of the program was forever changed.

The Ole Left-Hander

Charles “Lefty” Driesell was one of the top coaches in college basketball long before the court at Georgia State would bare his name. He turned a Maryland program into the UCLA of the East and after leaving James Madison following the 1996-97 season, one phone call changed the course of Panther basketball history.

“I had just left James Madison and Martin Harmon (former Sports Information Director) called me up and asked me if I would be interested in Georgia State,” Driesell said. “I will be honest, I had heard of the program, but wasn’t fully sure of where it was. My daughter, Patty, had been living in Atlanta at the time. I called her up and she thought it was a great idea. I talked to Orby Moss (former Athletic Director) as I still wanted to coach, so it seemed like the perfect fit. My other daughter, Pam, lived out near Athens, so I had a chance to be around my grandkids as well.”

Driesell began his career going 16-12 in his first season, including an 11-5 mark in the TAAC, the best conference record in program history at the time. The Panthers advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament before falling to FIU by just two points, 82-80.

The 1998-99 season opened with Georgetown coming to the Georgia Dome to face the Panthers in one of the biggest crowds in program history. Despite a loss, it showed Atlanta that Georgia State was once again on the rise. Just a few days later, Driesell won his 700th career game. He would finish with 786 wins, which to this day is the ninth in NCAA history.

The Panthers finished the season with 17 wins and once again advanced to the TAAC semifinals in Jacksonville, Fla.

After opening the 1999-2000 season 0-6, Driesell’s Panthers won 17 of their next 22 games and rode a six-game winning streak into the conference tournament. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the hot-handed Samford Bulldogs knocked Georgia State out of the conference tournament in the semifinals for the third straight year, but revenge was on its way.

“I thought every year would be special, so I didn’t think the 2000-01 season would be different than what I hoped,” Driesell said. “I knew we had pretty good players coming back. They played well together and had a lot of talent. It turned out to be a pretty good team.”

To a great extent, Driesell would be correct. The Panthers opened the season with one of the biggest wins in a program history, a 91-79 victory over Georgia in Athens in a game that was never even that close. Immediately, national media started to take notice of the Panthers, who rolled off seven straight victories to begin the season.

The wins kept coming, including a sweep of Hawaii, UAB and Cal State-Northridge in the Nike Festival in Honolulu. The Panthers would finish the regular season 25-4. During the same time, Georgia State was building to what capped out at a 25-game homecourt winning streak, the longest in program history to this day.

As the run continued, Driesell, as only he could, made one of his slightly off-the-wall statements, but this one was true: “We ain’t no Mickey Mouse team, we’re good.”

“We even went to Disney World and the media took a photo of us because I had made some comment that we were no ‘Mickey Mouse Team,’ ” Driesell said. “Everyone wanted to label us as a mid-major and I just wanted everyone to know that we were a major team and I thought we could match up well with just about anyone.”

As fortunes would have it, before the season began, the Panthers were named host of the TAAC Championship and GSU would not disappoint on its home court.

Georgia State cruised to a quarterfinal win, 96-57 over Florida Atlantic. The Panthers’ defense set a TAAC tournament record by limiting the Owls to just 29 percent shooting from the field while forcing 21 turnovers, grabbing 14 steals and blocking four shots.

Four players scored in double figures, led by Shernard Long with 18. Thomas Terrell had 15 points and nine rebounds, while Darryl Cooper scored 12 points and Donnie Davis added 11. State broke the game open with a 16-0 scoring run in the first half.

A semifinal rematch with Samford was next. The Bulldogs slowdown style kept the score close for much of the game, and the Bulldogs took a 53-51 lead on a dunk by Marc Salyers with 4:51 to play. From there, the Panthers outscored Samford 15-3 and earned a 66-56 victory to return to the TAAC Championship game.

Darryl Cooper led a quartet of double-figure scorers for the Panthers. Long and Thomas Terrell scored 14 points each and Kevin Morris added 12. State collected 13 steals and forced 21 turnovers.

Before a tournament record crowd of more than 4,000 fans on March 3, 2001, top-seeded Georgia State earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history with a convincing 79-55 victory over No. 2 seed Troy in the TAAC championship game.

Morris led the Panthers with 18 points and seven assists, while tournament MVP Terrell had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Terrell hit five 3-pointers as Georgia State set a then-school-record with 16 treys in the game while controlling the boards with a 44-28 rebounding advantage. Morris and Long (12 points, 14 rebounds) joined Terrell on the all-tournament team.

Selection Sunday and the Days After

The national secret was officially out on Georgia State. The Panthers were picked to be one of the TV teams for the big Selection Show announcement. The team, family and friends gathered at the ESPN Zone in Buckhead to see where the Panthers would be sent. As the crowd waited, Georgia State was announced as a No. 11 seed to face No. 6 seed Wisconsin in Boise, Idaho. The place erupted.

On Tuesday, as the Panthers prepared to fly to Boise, another group took off in a van for a 37-hour, 2,000-mile trip. Lefty’s Loonies, the passionate student-fan base group, took off with local radio and television recording for the cross country trip. Along the way, the group did live radio updates daily on 790 The Zone, which had sponsored the trip.

Boise had no idea what it was in for!

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

With a 10:50 a.m. local time tip, Georgia State arrived to Boise State’s arena to see snow and tailgating fans cooking breakfast. By the time the game was over, the nearly 12,000-seat arena was fully cheering for the good guys in blue.

Wisconsin was ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll and No. 19 and 22 in RPI. A national television audience got to hear Craig Bolerjack and James Worthy call the game. The Panthers struggled early, making mistakes and missing shots. Wisconsin was holding a 16-point lead, 30-14, with two minutes left in the first half. Bam Campbell made two free throws and then Kevin Morris nailed a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer to close margin to 30-19.

The second half saw the feisty Panthers play better. Down 39-32 at 12:38, a trey by Cooper, a driving basket by Cooper, a basket by Morris and then an old-fashioned three-point play by Long tied the game at 42-42 with 7:11 left, and the Loonies had the Boise crowd helping them cheer the Panthers' upset bid.

Wisconsin went to 6-foot-9 Mark Vershaw down the stretch because GSU’s Darryl Cooper had All-Big Ten guard Kirk Penney shut down. Vershaw made a free throw and then had a dunk to put UW up 45-42. Long answered with a jumper. Vershaw answered with two more free throws and it was  47-44 with 1:30 on the clock. Andy Kowske hit two free throws and Wisconsin was up 49-44 with 1:00 remaining.

With 48 seconds left, Cooper made one of the biggest plays in GSU history by making a 3-point shot and being fouled, converting it into a four-point play to cut the deficit to 49-48. Cooper wasn’t done as he then stepped up and made a defensive steal to get GSU the ball back.

Long calmly sank a jumper, and GSU had the lead at 50-49, but there were still 12 seconds left.

Wisconsin went to Vershaw again since he had 19 points and had made 7-of-9 free throws. When Vershaw made his move to the basket, 6-5 Campbell had to foul him to stop the basket. Vershaw stepped to the line with three seconds and the pressure of the game on his shoulders. The Panthers season was on the line:

Clank, right rim. Chance for a tie. Clank, back rim. Rebound, Shernard Long. Ballgame. Georgia State!

“My favorite win was winning the TAAC tournament on our home court,” Driesell said. “We had gotten so close and then lost. Though the more I think about it, beating Wisconsin was also really special. They were in the Final Four the year before that and wins in the NCAA tournament are always special.”

Fear the Turtle

The Panthers then had to face No. 3-seed and top 20-ranked Maryland (No. 11 AP) on Saturday for the chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. These are the types of moments that programs dream about and everyone associated with the program was enjoying every minute of it.

The first half was a fun scoring duel for the fans. GSU had several early leads and traded baskets with the talented Terps of the ACC but was down 41-37. Hustling GSU had a 28-20 rebound advantage, even though Campbell had three fouls and played eight minutes, while Lydell Gunsby played on while seeing mainly out of one eye after his previous injury against Wisconsin.

The second half saw GSU re-take the lead at 43-42 with 17:51 left after a pair of Donnie Davis free throws. Another Davis free throw at 14:31 tied the game at 47. Campbell had his fourth foul in the first 20 seconds of the half, so Davis was stepping up.

Trailing 53-49 with 12 minutes left, GSU got careless with turnovers and was called for more fouls. Maryland went on a 10-0 run to make it 63-49, spurred by 8-for-8 from the free throw line, and GSU’s top rebounder, Campbell, was gone with five fouls with 10:10 left after just nine minutes of total playing time.

The Panthers were down 71-60 with four minutes left and looking for a rally but couldn’t find the shooting magic. GSU never scored again as Maryland pulled away for the largest margin of the game, 79-60 at the end. The Terps would eventually move on to the Final Four and 25 wins.

GSU finished 2000-01 with 29 wins, third in the nation that year. The Panthers finished with 43 votes in the final two national polls, seventh among the teams receiving votes and not in the top 25. Coach Driesell sat at 762 career wins, fifth in NCAA history at the time.

The team was No. 7 in the country in 3-point baskets made and No. 16 in scoring.

Long was honorable mention All-America and Player of the Year of the Trans America Athletic Conference (TAAC), while leading the league in scoring. Morris was the Chevrolet Player of the Game in the NCAA first round, first-team all-conference and first-team all-tournament. Terrell was MVP of the TAAC Tournament and second-team all-conference.

The national media coverage was the largest in school history with “Lefty’s” national recognition and the team’s amazing success.

Not Done Yet

Coach Driesell had one more run left in him during the 2001-02 season that nearly ended with a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Georgia State ran through the regular season with another win over Georgia, this time in the Georgia Dome, and a 95-90 victory over No. 15 St. Joseph’s during the regular season.

In the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, the Panthers appeared ready to defend their title, scoring wins over Belmont and UCF to advance to the championship game once again.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Cinderella wasn’t meant to return to the dance. Georgia State led Florida Atlantic for most of the game, but the Owls took the lead with less than 10 seconds to play. With an automatic bid on the line, Lamont McIntosh raced down the lane but missed a last-second jumper, sending the Panthers to the Postseason NIT. It wasn’t how the season was supposed to end, but it still resulted in the Panthers returning to the postseason for the third time in program history – and first time in back-to-back years.

Facing a Tennessee Tech team that had a 25-game homecourt winning streak, the Panthers fell 64-62, coming up short of their ultimate goal, but once again securing a 20-win season.

It would also be the last conference tournament and postseason game that Driesell would coach. Midway through the 2002-03 season, Driesell retired and handed the reins off to Mike Perry.

Perry led the Panthers to a 20-9 record in 2003-04 and a win over Auburn, but Georgia State fell in the semifinals of the A-Sun Tournament after leading by nine with 90-seconds to play. It was the start of a couple of rough years for the Panther program.

Today

Ron Hunter took over the Georgia State program on March 21, 2011. He brought new energy to a program in need of a postseason appearance – and helped the Panthers earn just that in his first season.

After starting the 2011-12 season 0-3, the Panthers won a school-record 11 straight games, including one of the program’s marquee wins at VCU. Hunter led the team to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and a 22-win season.

In his first two seasons, Hunter won 37 games, the most of any GSU coach in his first two years at the helm of the program.

As Georgia State plays its 50th season at the NCAA Division I level, it is interesting to ponder what the next 50 years will bring.

 

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