Georgia road trip is State's biggest weekend in recent memory
Photo by Gerald Castillo
It’s been a long time since Texas State (15-9, 8-4 in the Sun Belt) basketball has had a weekend like this on its hands.
Head coach Danny Kaspar said the Bobcats’ road trip to Georgia might be the program’s biggest weekend in 15 years. There is an outside chance that by the end of Monday night’s game against Georgia State (16-9, 9-4 in the Sun Belt) that Texas State could sit atop the Sun Belt.
“We really get to control our destiny, I don’t remember the last time playing for something this serious,” freshman guard Nijal Pearson said. “It’s all on us. Nobody can take or give anything to us, we have to take it. This is all what we can do about it. We can win the conference if we take care of our business.”
Assistant coach Terrence Johnson told the team that this season has been a “magic carpet ride” for them. Despite being picked last, Kaspar said the team’s drive hasn’t been as grandiose as proving doubters wrong as opposed to just staying focused on what’s ahead.
“I really think that these guys are a unique group in that they take it one game at a time,” Kaspar said. “The win over UT Arlington was a huge confidence booster for us, but also the win at Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State were great wins for our confidence. These guys believe in themselves, they believe in what I’m selling, that defense and rebounding will win games for us.”
Both Georgia State and Georgia Southern (16-10, 9-4 in the Sun Belt) are in a three-way tie with Arkansas State for second place in the conference. Texas State sits a half-game back in third place with Coastal Carolina nipping at its heels in fourth.
First up is Saturday’s game against the league’s best scoring tandem in sophomore guards Ike Smith and Tookie Brown. Both are first and second respectively in Sun Belt individual scoring with Smith averaging a league-high 19.6 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting and Brown averaging 18.1 on 42.3 percent shooting.
“Obviously you’ve really got to play great defense to stop them,” Kaspar said. “You’ve got to control the tempo a little bit and not get into an up-and-down battle with them.”
Pearson said no disrespect to Brown, but Smith is the best scorer he’s studied on film thus far in the conference. The Beaumont-native has already defended premier scoring talents like Appalachian State’s Ronshad Shabazz and Arkansas State’s Devin Carter, but Smith is his biggest challenge to date. Smith has only been held to single digits three times this season and on top of everything, he’s still a plus-40 percent shooter from 3-point range.
“Ike Smith can score the ball in a variety of ways. Like he’s calm, he’s under control and he’s just a really good player,” Pearson said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to face him.”
Hanner Fieldhouse is a uniquely small, yet raucous venue seating under 4,500. The Eagles are 9-1 this season at home and unbeaten in conference.
After Saturday, Texas State travels to Atlanta Monday night to play Georgia State at 6 p.m.