What You Need to Know:
* No. 2-seed Georgia State topped No. 3-seed Georgia Southern 73-67 in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals on Saturday at Lakefront Arena.
* Senior Isaiah Williams led the Panthers with 21 points while going 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
* The Panthers will advance to face No. 4-seed UT Arlington on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with the winner advancing to the NCAA tournament.
NEW ORLEANS-No. 2-seed Georgia State advanced to its third Sun Belt Championship game in the last five years with a 73-67 win over No. 3-seed Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon at Lakefront Arena.
Georgia State (23-10) will face No. 4-seed UT Arlington on Sunday in the championship game at 2 p.m. ET with the winner advancing to the NCAA tournament. It marks the seventh time in program history advancing to a conference tournament championship game. The Mavericks upset top-seed Louisiana 71-68 in the first semifinal of the day.
The Panthers eliminated Georgia Southern (21-12) from the conference tournament for the second time in four years despite 25 points from Tookie Brown and 16 points from Ike Smith.
“This is a really good win against an in-state team,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “We knew that they were going to make a run in the second half as they went small which kind of bothered us a little bit. However, our guys are resilient and wanted to play for a championship tomorrow. Now we have a chance to get back to the Big Dance.”
Georgia Southern took an early 7-6 lead before Coye Simmons was called for a foul and subsequent technical that sent Georgia State to the line for four free throws.
The Panthers made 3-of-4 from the line that spurred an 11-0 run as Georgia State pushed the lead to 17-7 with 11:49 to play. During the stretch, GSU held the Eagles scoreless for nearly five minutes as Southern missed eight-straight field goals.
A third 3-pointer by Thomas pushed Georgia State’s lead to 24-11 with just over eight minutes to play. It was a part of a stretch where the Panthers made eight-straight field goals following a lay-up by Jordan Session that pushed the lead to 36-19 with 5:46 to play.
Georgia State went into the locker room leading 46-31 after shooting 54.2 percent from the floor, 5-of-9 from 3-point range and 15-of-18 from the free throw line. On the defensive end, the Panthers limited the Eagles to just 35.5 percent shooting and 3-of-12 from 3-point range.
Georgia Southern cut the lead to 10 points following a free throw by Mike Hughes with 14:18 to play, before Malik Benlevi responded with a 3-pointer to give GSU a 55-42 lead with 12:26 to play.
A 3-pointer by Ike Smith and back-to-back free throws by Tookie Brown spurred a 7-0 Georgia Southern run that cut the Panthers’ lead to 57-51 with 7:16 to play.
Two more Ike Smith free throws cut Georgia State’s lead to 60-56 with 4:23 to play, but Isaiah Williams responded with a lay-up and 3-pointer to push the lead back to 66-56 with 2:45 to play.
Georgia Southern responded with a 7-0 run and cut the Panthers’ lead to 66-63 with just 53 seconds remaining.
With the shot clock winding down, Georgia Southern got called for a kicked ball with 23 seconds to play, resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds.
Coming out of a time-out, junior Devin Mitchell thought that there was just one second on the shot clock and heaved a 3-pointer that went in to double Georgia State’s lead, 69-63.
Isaiah Williams made four free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Limited by foul trouble, D’Marcus Simonds was held to just six points, ending a streak of 49-straight games scoring in double figures. However, with his first basket, he scored his 689th point of the year breaking the single-season record previously held by R.J. Hunter.
Quan Jackson added 10 points and five rebounds for Georgia Southern which was held to 39.7 percent shooting and 5-of-21 from 3-point range.
Georgia State improved to 6-3 all-time as a No. 2-seed in conference tournaments . . . Georgia State is 3-3 all-time in conference tournament championship games . . . The Panthers’ 23 wins are the fourth-most in school history . . . Senior Jordan Session played in his 126th game, tied for second-most in school history and just three shy of the school record . . . Session was also a part of his 84th win, second-most in school history and three shy of Ryann Green’s school-record of 87 . . . Devin Mitchell knocked down two 3-pointers and is just six shy GSU’s single-season 3-pointers made mark with 94 this year.