Macon, Ga.-Georgia State rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half before falling at Mercer, 64-59, Saturday afternoon in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, ending the Panthers' season.
Georgia State, which earned its first postseason berth since 2002, ends its season with a record of 22-12, the second most wins in school history. Mercer improved to 24-11 and advances to the final eight of the CIT.
"I am so proud of this team," commented head coach Ron Hunter after the game. "They gave me everything that they had all season and I am so glad that we were able to reward these seniors with postseason play.
"Although I am obviously disappointed by the loss, I told our players to keep their heads' held high. We accomplished so much this season and there is so much to be proud of. Georgia State turned a corner this year and will continue to get better."
After trailing 45-31 with 9:37 left, Georgia State rallied to tie the game at 49-all on James Fields' three-pointer with 4:53 to play. The game was tied at 51 when Mercer's Justin Cecil completed a three-point play to give the Bears a three-point lead with 2:53 left. After two free throws by GSU's Devonta White, Cecil, who finished with a game-high 19 points, then nailed a three-pointer to put Mercer ahead 57-53 with 2:19 to go.
Mercer pushed its lead to 61-56 on two free throws by Jakob Gallon with 43 seconds left, but Jihad Ali answered for Georgia State with a three-pointer, pulling the Panthers within 61-59 with 37 seconds left.
After Langston Hall made one of two free throws for the Bears, Georgia State had a shot to tie the game, but Ali, White and Brandon McGee all missed potential game-tying three-pointers.
The Panthers endured one of their worst offensive performances of the season, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field, including a frigid 21.4 percent in the first half. Meanwhile, Mercer nailed six first-half three-pointers to build a 28-18 lead at the intermission and then held off Georgia State in the second half.
Georgia State was ice cold in the first half, managing just six field goals on 28 attempts. The 18 points scored by the Panthers equals their season low for a half.
White led the Panthers with 18 points. Senior James Fields added 14 points, while another senior playing his final game, Jihad Ali, contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Ali finishes his career with a school record 126 games played, while Fields will go down in the history books second with 124.
Eric Buckner added nine points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. The 6-10 forward finishes his impressive two-year career with 167 blocks, most in school history. He set a school record with 117 blocked shots this season, which also ranks as the fifth most in a season in CAA history.
Justin Cecil led Mercer with 19 points, while Langston Hall chipped in with 12 and Jakob Gollon added 10.
The Panthers played the final 12 minutes of the game without head coach Ron Hunter, who received his first two technical fouls of the season and was ejected with 11:48 left.
GSU played without senior starter Josh Micheaux who was suspended before the game by Hunter for a violation of team rules, perhaps distracting the team's primary focus at this crucial time.
Georgia State will loses six seniors off of this years squad, but has already signed four in the early signing period.