NEW ORLEANS, LA – For a second consecutive year, the Georgia State Panthers are heading to the NCAA tournament after a 73-64 win over the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks Sunday evening. Lakefront Arena was filled with excited Panther fans and players after realizing Georgia State clinched their consecutive Sun Belt title and tournament bid.
“I’m so proud of this team and so happy for our program, fans, University and the city of Atlanta,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “This group played as a team all year long and what they did over the last two days defensively is just remarkable. But like we have said all year, not only do we want to make it to the NCAA Tournament, we want to go win a game in the tournament and we get that chance now.”
Texas-Arlington led much of the first half until Georgia State forward Jeff Thomas made all three free throws to lead 24-23 with 7:12 remaining in the first half.
The Panthers never lost momentum from that point on. They scored four straight points with point guard Kane Williams converting a layup as time expired to put the Panthers up 36-31 going into halftime.
As the second half began, the Panthers feeded off the first half momentum, going on a quick 4-0 run led by guards Damon Wilson and D’Marcus Simonds. This increased their lead to nine as the Mavericks called a timeout.
With 15:41 to go in the second half, Thomas made a three pointer, making their biggest lead of the game to 12.
The Mavericks kept things close throughout the second half but it was the Panthers who proved to be the superior team. After a Mavericks foul put the Panthers in the bonus, it was time for Panthers forward Malik Benlevi to ice the game for the Panthers.
Benlevi, after being fouled, drained both free throws while Panthers head coach Ron Hunter subbed out all starters. As time expired, players hugged Hunter and fans began to celebrate as time ran out. The Panthers finished with a final score of 73-64 after late buckets by the Mavericks.
Benlevi led all scorers with 16 points as five Panthers scored in double figures. Wilson finished with 13, Kane Williams with 12, Thomas 11 and Simonds with 10.
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Panthers have won more games (134) than any other NCAA Division I team in the state of Georgia.
The Panthers earned the 14th seed in the tournament and will face the Houston Cougars Friday afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tip off is 7:20 PM on TBS. The last time Georgia State were the 14th seed this happened:
R.J. Hunter hit a 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play to stun No. 3-seed Baylor as head coach Ron Hunter fell off a stool. The elder Hunter had torn his Achilles in the Sun Belt Conference championship game celebration a week before. ‘The Shot’ capped a 13-0 run to finish the game with 12 of those points coming from R.J. Hunter.