From Georgia Southern Sports Information
NEW ORLEANS – R.J. Hunter sank two free throws with 21.6 seconds left, and Eric Ferguson’s long 3-point try from the wing was off the mark as the buzzer sounded as Georgia State outlasted Georgia Southern 38-36 in the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship Sunday afternoon in Lakefront Arena.
Hunter pump faked and got an Eagle defender in the air, drawing contact and the foul call with five seconds on the shot clock. After the free throws, Mike Hughes took a 3-pointer from the right wing for the Eagles, and Curtis Diamond dug out the rebound and called timeout with five seconds remaining.
Hughes inbounded to Trent Wiedeman, who threw the ball back to Ferguson on the left wing. The senior took a dribble to his left and fired over Kevin Ware, but the shot rimmed out.
“That’s hard – you put in months and months of work and years and years for some of these guys to try to have a moment like this, and we were close,” said Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington. “We were about as close as you can get. An inch or two here or there and we win the game. I feel bad for the guys because they’ve given me everything they had this year. I wanted them to have that moment.”
Wiedeman finished with eight points and seven rebounds for the Eagles (22-9), and Jelani Hewitt scored eight points. Hughes tallied seven points and a game-high nine boards. Wiedeman and Hewitt earned all-tournament honors.
Ware was named the tournament MVP after scoring 18 points for Georgia State (24-9). Hunter had nine points and five rebounds, and Markus Crider tallied eight points and seven boards.
It was a defensive struggle throughout – the Eagles shot 23 percent for the game, while the Panthers shot 33 percent. Georgia Southern had trouble solving the Panthers’ zone and made 5-of-26 from 3-point range.
“Both teams’ defense was tremendous – their zone and our man-to-man,” said Byington. “It was a 12-round fight out there, and we just couldn’t finish the deal at the end. But I couldn’t be more proud of the guys – they played to win and they gave everything they had.”
Georgia State took a 29-23 lead on Ware baseline jumper from behind the corner of the backboard, but the Eagles responded with a 7-0 run, keyed by a Hughes 3-pointer. A Kyle Doyle layup gave Georgia Southern its first lead of game with 9:25 to go. The Panthers re-took the lead with a Ware 3-pointer from the baseline on the next possession, and the game saw four ties until Hunter’s game-winning charity tosses.
The Eagles started the game 1-for-10 from the floor with four turnovers, and a pair of 30-foot Hewitt 3-pointers from the wing provided the bulk of the offensive highlights in the first half. Georgia Southern stayed in the game with staunch defense, holding Georgia State to 35 percent from the floor and forcing six turnovers.
Notes: Georgia Southern fell to 3-2 in tourney championship games with their last win coming in 1992… GS has gone to the NIT three times, playing in the postseason in 1988, 1989, and 2006.