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Gainesville High grad Simonds leads Georgia State to Sun Belt basketball championship, NCAA tournament bid
Simonds selected as tournament's Most Outstanding Player following 27-point outing
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Georgia State guard and Gainesville High graduate D'Marcus Simonds (15) goes to the basket against Texas-Arlington center Johnny Hamilton (13) in the first half of the the Sun Belt Conference championship game Sunday, March 11, in New Orleans. - photo by Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Gainesville High graduate D’Marcus Simonds scored 27 points and Georgia State defeated Texas Arlington 74-61 Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship.

No. 2 seed Georgia State (24-10) will be making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2015. Fourth-seeded UT Arlington, which upset Sun Belt regular-season champion Louisiana-Lafayette in the semifinals, fell to 21-13.

The Panthers, who set school records for 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made this season, connected on 8 of 17 from beyond the arc. The Mavericks made 4 of 25 3-pointers and shot 29.8 percent (17 of 57) from the floor.

Simonds, the Sun Belt Player of the Year who set the Panthers’ single-season scoring record during a semifinal victory against Georgia Southern on Saturday, was chosen the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Devin Mitchell added 13 points before fouling out, and Malik Benlevi scored 11 for GSU.

Johnny Hamilton led the Mavericks with 23 points and 14 rebounds, Erick Neal scored 12, Kevin Hervey had 11 and Kaelon Williams 10. Neal, who had averaged a tournament-best 27.5 points in the previous two games, made 2 of 15 shots, including 1 of 9 3-pointers.

GSU led by three at halftime, but UTA twice cut the lead to one early in the second half. Simonds scored four points during an 11-1 run that gave the Panthers a 46-35 lead.

After Hamilton made a free throw, Benlevi scored five points to start an 11-2 run that put the Panthers in command.

Simonds scored 10 points as GSU opened a 22-15 lead midway through the first half. Hevery made a 3-pointer for UTA before the Panthers scored eight consecutive points to take a 30-18 lead. Wilson’s three-point play ended the run and Hervey and Neal each made a 3-pointer to get the Mavericks within 33-30 at halftime.


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