NEW ORLEANS-Behind a game-high 27 points from Sun Belt Player of the Year D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State earned a 74-61 win over UT Arlington on Sunday afternoon at Lakefront Arena to earn the school’s fourth-ever bid to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia State (24-10) used its defensive pressure to hold UT Arlington (21-13) to just 29.8 percent shooting as Devin Mitchell and Malik Benlevi joined Simonds in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Simonds was named Tournament MVP while senior Isaiah Williams was named to the All-Tournament Team.
“This is just unbelievable,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “I told our guys that if they played defense the way they were capable of we could come down and win this championship. I’m so happy for our seniors, for our team, for our University and for the city of Atlanta!”
Georgia State took an early 9-4 lead with 16:26 to play as Simonds scored seven points in the opening minutes.
Holding UT Arlington without a field goal for more than six minutes, the Panthers pushed the lead to 22-15 with 7:56 remaining. Georgia State followed with an 8-0 run capped by a Mitchell 3-pointer to lead 30-18 with just under six minutes to play in the first half.
The Mavericks responded with a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Hervey to cut Georgia State’s lead to 31-27 with 2:20 and got as close as three points a possession later.
Georgia State went into the locker room with a 33-30 lead despite shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. On the defensive end, the Panthers held the Mavericks to 34.4 percent shooting and just 3-of-13 from 3-point range.
The Mavericks cut the lead to one on a field goal with 19:10 to play before being held without another field goal until 9:44 to play.
During the stretch, Georgia State used a 7-0 run capped by a Benlevi 3-pointer to push the lead to 42-34 with 16:37 to play.
Minutes later a jumper by Thomas pushed the lead to 57-38 with 10:00 to play, forcing UT Arlington to call timeout.
The Mavericks responded with a 6-0 run to cut Georgia State’s lead to 60-49 with 5:51 to play but never was able to cut it to single figures.
Simonds threw down a huge dunk over two UTA players with 3:45 to go that ignited the crowd and started the championship celebration on GSU’s bench.
Georgia State sealed the deal at the free throw line in the closing minutes, finishing the game at 16-of-20 from the line.
Georgia State will learn its NCAA Tournament fate at 6 p.m. when the NCAA Selection Show begins on TBS.
Georgia State improved 4-3 all-time in conference tournament finals . . . Georgia State improved to 7-3 all-time as a No. 2-seed in conference tournaments . . . The Panthers’ 24 wins are the fourth-most in school history . . . Senior Jordan Session played in his 127th game, second-most in school history and just two shy of the school record . . . Session was also a part of his 85th win, second-most in school history and two 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.