Eagles Fall Short In Sun Belt Semi-Finals

COURTESY: Georgia Southern Athletics

NEW ORLEANS – Isaiah Williams scored 21 points, and Georgia State held off a furious Georgia Southern rally to earn a 73-67 win over the Eagles in the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals Saturday afternoon in Lakefront Arena.

The win sends the Panthers into tomorrow’s championship game against UTA.

Tookie Brown scored a game-high 25 points to lead Georgia Southern (21-12), and Ike Smith finished with 16 points, with 14 coming in the second half. Quan Jackson collected 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Jordan Sessions made all seven of his field goal attempts and posted 16 points and eight rebounds for Georgia State (23-10), while Jeff Thomas scored all 13 of his points in the first half. The Eagles held Sun Belt Player of the Year D’Marcus Simonds to six points, and the sophomore fouled out with 5:19 left in the game.

The Eagles played again without starting forward Montae Glenn, who is ranked second in the country in offensive rebounds. Glenn suffered a knee injury in practice Wednesday.

The story
A bizarre play inside the last 25 seconds sealed the win for State. Southern had whittled an 18-point first-half deficit down to three, and State had the ball with one second on the shot clock, when the Eagles were whistled for a kicked ball. The shot clock reset to 20 seconds, and 23.7 remained on the game clock.

After a timeout, State inbounded to Devin Mitchell, who did not realize the shot clock reset, and he turned and fired an off-balance 3-pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net, giving the Panthers a 69-63 cushion. It was just his second field goal of the game. Jackson missed a 3-pointer on the Eagles’ trip down the floor, and Williams sealed the win with four free throws.

Williams also hit back-to-back buckets to stymie Southern’s momentum after Smith cut the margin to 60-56 with 4:23 to play. He nailed a 3-pointer with one second on the shot clock on one possession and followed it with a drive to the hoop for a 66-58 State lead with 1:50 remaining.

Smith scored on a layup to cut it to six points, and the Panthers turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. Jackson stole the second errant pass and got to the rim for an and-1 to make the score 66-63 with 53 seconds left. State committed 13 turnovers in the second half as Southern extended its defense to get back in the contest.

The Eagles started the game 3 of 15 from the field and went through a scoring drought of 4:35 as State built a 17-7 lead. Kane Williams scored five points, and Sessions added four as the Panthers used a 17-5 spurt to push the margin to 18 points, their largest lead of the game.

State picks up a bonus point in the Southern vs. State Rivalry Series and now holds a 11.5-1.5 lead.

Quotables from Head coach Mark Byington
“It was a typical dramatic Georgia Southern – Georgia State game, and we got off to a start that made it just too much to come back from. I don’t know if it was the quick turnaround, but we weren’t ourselves for the first 14 minutes of the game. Just atypical of what we have been through thirty-some games we played this year, and in the second half, we started playing like ourselves and were aggressive and making plays. The finality of it hurts. I hurt for our senior group, who has done a tremendous job building Georgia Southern basketball. I am really proud of our guys’ effort. We fought and fought and just could not get a break.”

On Devin Mitchell’s shot
“It’s an unbelievable stretch there. We had tons of momentum. They didn’t even know the shot clock was going down, the ball goes off our foot and we were going to foul the guy when he caught it. He just kind of ran to the corner, faded away and shot it. If the kicked ball is not there or if he misses that 3 – just so many things that are what-ifs in this game that it’s going to be hard for us to get over for a while. Those are two big ones that were in the last minute of the game, and there was probably 20 more in the game.”

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