TULSA, Okla. — You knew Ron Hunter would take his jokes to Tulsa, didn't you?
"We got no shot," Hunter said on Thursday. "I don't know why we're coming."
Even Houston coach Kelvin Sampson made the routine. Hunter affectionately called him "grandpa."
"I think when I was 10, he was 60, at that time. I really look up to grandpa," Hunter joked. "Grandpa's got a great team. He's been coaching longer. I will ask grandpa if I should call a timeout. I'll ask grandpa who I should start. If it's four minutes to go in the game and we are winning, I will ask grandpa if it's okay to finish the game and we can win."
The truth is, "grandpa" is nine years older than Hunter. And his Panthers know why they showed up.
"We knew we weren't going to be over a 10-seed-type-deal," said junior guard D'Marcus Simonds. "So we were going to play someone that was (in air quotes) 'better.'"
"Most of the time, when coaches get up here, they give 'coach speak'," said Hunter, who is the opposite of "coach speak" (he directed the Panthers' band at the conclusion of practice).
"They say, 'you know, we'll see, we're going to play hard.' If I don't believe it, how are my kids going to believe it? And it's no disrespect to Houston at all. But I will be extremely, extremely, disappointed if we don't win this game," Hunter said.
The players are picking up what Hunter is putting down.
"We don't really care which seed we're in. We're going to come in and play hard regardless," said senior forward Malik Benlevi. "We feel like we can beat anybody that we play in the defense that we're supposed to play."
Georgia State stepped in to one empty spot above a thin black line with a double-digit number beside its name. Whichever single-digit team stepped in to the other vacancy was of little importance.
"That's one of the reasons why we left right after (winning the Sun Belt Tournament Championship in) New Orleans and we didn't stay for a selection show," Hunter said. "We didn't care who we played. It didn't make a difference who we played. We could've played the Boston Celtics. Our guys were on a mission that we want to win this game."
The last time Georgia State carried a 14-seed, it upset Baylor in the teams' opening matchup of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The 15-seed Panthers lost to two-seed Cincinnati last season.
Georgia State and Houston tip off Friday at 7:20 p.m. The game will be broadcast on TBS.
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