ATLANTA-No. 14-seed Georgia State will return to the NCAA tournament for the second-straight year and third time in five years on Friday facing No.3-seed Houston at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., at 7:20 p.m. ET live on TBS. Georgia State will be looking to advance out of the first round for the third time in program history.
Georgia State (24-9) will face Houston (31-3) out of the American Athletic Conference, the same league the Panthers went up against in the NCAA Tournament last season (Cincinnati). The Panthers won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for a second consecutive year on Sunday and enter the tournament having won five-straight games and eight of its last nine.
Georgia State’s 24 wins are tied for the fourth-most in program history. On offense, the Panthers have knocked down a school-record 324 3-pointers, while shooting a school-record 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. On defense, the Panthers join only Duke and Auburn with four or more players with 25 or more blocked shots this season, while also forcing 8.0 steals per game, which is ranked No. 24 in the NCAA.
Saturday’s contest can be heard live on WAOK-AM 1380 and WRAS-FM 88.5 with Dave Cohen, now in his 36th year as the Voice of the Panthers, calling the action. The game will air live on the TBS with Brad Nessler, Steve Lavin, Jim Jackson and Evan Washburn on the call. Live statistics and live audio will be available at GeorgiaStateSports.com and on most mobile devices.
“I have said this before, but this is exactly what every college coach and student-athlete plays for,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “Last year, although prepared, I think our guys were a little more nervous and we saw that in the game. This year, most of our guys played in that game last year and know what to expect when the ball goes up. They are excited and ready to play.”
Prior to last season which ended with a 68-53 loss to Cincinnati, the Panthers previously qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2015 when Georgia State became the Cinderella of the Dance. Trailing No. 3-seed Baylor by 12 points with 2:53 to play, the Panthers ended the game on a 13-0 run capped with a 30-footer from R.J. Hunter with 2.6 seconds to play. The shot sent head coach Ron Hunter falling off a stool and the rest became history.
Prior to that appearance under former head coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, Georgia State scored a 50-49 win over No. 6 Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2001 in Boise, Idaho. Ironically in each of those two wins, the Panthers trailed by double figures late in the game. The Panthers first appearance came in 1991 as a No. 16 seed playing in Atlanta against Arkansas.
Five members of Georgia State’s squad are averaging in double figures. The Panthers are the only team in the country with four players having made 50 or more 3-pointers this season led by Devin Mitchell who has 82.
Junior D’Marcus Simonds, who earned All-Sun Belt First Team honors after garnering Sun Belt Player of the Year honors last year, is fifth in the league averaging 18.4 points per game. He earned Sun Belt All-Tournament honors on Sunday and stands in second-place on Georgia State’s all-time scoring list with 1,726 points, just 93 points shy of R.J. Hunter from becoming the all-time career points leader in program history. His career scoring average of 17.9 points per game ranks No. 21 among all active NCAA players.
Since returning from injury, senior Devin Mitchell has shown why he is one of the best shooters in the country. After missing the first seven games, Mitchell has returned to average 12.2 points per game while shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range which ranks first in the conference and No. 18 in the nation. He has made 82 3-pointers in 25 games this season, seventh-most in a single-season in program history.
Senior Malik Benlevi, who earned Sun Belt Tournament Most Outstanding Performer honors on Sunday has knocked down 74 3-pointers and is averaging 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He has garnered a double-double in three-straight games and has four on the season.
Senior Jeff Thomas is adding 11.7 points per game while grabbing 4.5 rebounds per contest and has knocked down 70 3-pointers this season. Along with Mitchell and Benlevi, the trio makes up three of the seven best 3-pointer shooters in program history by the number of makes.
Sophomore Kane Williams and redshirt-junior Damon Wilson round out the starting line-up. Williams is averaging 11.3 points and 3.6 assists per game. He ranks No. 36 in the NCAA in steals per game with 2.0. Wilson is adding 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game but was added to the starting line-up for his energy and defensive presence as he has swiped 30 steals while averaging just 19.5 minutes per game.
- 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.
- Georgia State is 22-0 when leading at halftime this season, the second-most wins without a loss at halftime in the country, just behind Gonzaga’s 25-0 mark.
- The Panthers have already overcome five deficits of at least eight points this season, including two of 18 points or greater.
With a win on Friday night, Georgia State would advance to the second round of the tournament and face the winner of No. 6 Iowa State/No. 11 Ohio State on Sunday.