JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - R.J. Hunter kept firing away, eventually lifting Georgia State over Baylor and knocking his father right off his seat.
Hunter's 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining capped a comeback from a 12-point deficit and lifted the 14th-seeded Panthers to a 57-56 opening-game victory over the third-seeded Bears in the NCAA tournament on Thursday.
With father, Ron, working the sideline in a rolling chair less than a week after tearing his left Achilles tendon celebrating Georgia State winning the Sun Belt Conference championship, R.J. shrugged off a poor shooting performance to come through when his team needed him most.When to watchFinal Four TV scheduleSee alsoMarch Madness bonus pay for coaches
Baylor (24-10), which got 18 points and 15 rebounds from reserve Taurean Prince, did not score after going up 56-44 on two free throws with 2:54 remaining.
Pesky Georgia State forced three turnovers and Hunter scored nine straight points, including a 3 that brought chants of "R.J. 3, R.J. 3, R.J. 3" from Panthers fans at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The junior guard's steal and layup trimmed Baylor's lead to 56-53, and he drained a NBA-range 3 for the win after the Bears' Kenny Chery missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could have put the game away for the Bears.
When Prince's desperation heave from beyond halfcourt bounced off the backboard at the buzzer, Ron Hunter grabbed his head and fell off his chair as his players mobbed one another in celebration.
R.J. Hunter finished with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Ryann Green scored 11 points and Markus Crider had 10 for Georgia State, which will play Xavier or Mississippi on Saturday.
Ron and R.J. Hunter aren't the only feel-good story lines for the Panthers. Thursday marked Kevin Ware's return to the NCAA Tournament, two years after breaking his leg while playing for eventual national champion Louisville in the Elite Eight.
With second-leading scorer Ryan Harrow sidelined by a hamstring injury that's slowed him the past two weeks, Ware started Thursday and scored four points.
Hunter vowed to stand as much as possible on the sideline, and that turned out to be not much at all. Instead he scooted about on a blue rolling chair, his bare toes extending out of the cast on his left foot.
With Harrow out and R.J. Hunter off to his slow start, Georgia State fell behind 16-6 before settling down and putting together a 13-3 run to get back in the game. Ware's open jumper gave the Panthers their first lead, 26-24, and Georgia State looked like it might go into the locker room ahead at halftime before Prince made two free throws and a 3-pointer at the buzzer that rimmed out before hitting the backboard and falling through to put Baylor up 33-30.
Baylor seemingly took control with Royce O'Neale and Lester Medford making 3-pointers during a 12-1 burst that turned a one-point deficit into a 52-42 lead. Rico Gathers made two free throws to put the Bears up by 12, but they couldn't finish the job.
Georgia State: The Sun Belt champions are making their third appearance in the NCAAs, first since 2001 when the Lefty Driesell-coached Panthers were a No. 11 seed and upset No. 6 Wisconsin in their opening game. The other appearance was as a No. 16 seed in 1991.
Baylor: The Bears won at least two games in each of their past three trips to the NCAA Tournament. They reached the Elite Eight before losing to Duke in 2010. They advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2012 and 2014, losing to Kentucky three years ago and Wisconsin last season.
Georgia State: The Panthers face Xavier or Mississippi on Saturday.
Baylor: Three of Thursday's five starters are underclassmen, including Gathers. Prince also is a junior.