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Georgia State earns first automatic tourney bid since 2001
Panthers beat Georgia Southern in conference title game
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Georgia State guard Isaiah Dennis (4) shoots in front of Georgia Southern forward Eric Ferguson (3) in the first half of Sunday's Sunbelt Conference tournament championship in New Orleans. - photo by Bill Haber

NEW ORLEANS — The basket had to be lowered so Georgia State coach Ron Hunter could cut the final pieces of the net following his team's 38-36 victory over Georgia Southern on Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game.

Hunter, whose son R.J. made the deciding free throws with 21.6 seconds left, injured his achilles tendon in the immediate postgame celebration and had to be helped off the court. He did return to be with his team as they cut down the nets with his snips being a lot closer to the court.

Georgia Southern had two 3-point attempts for the win in the final 7 seconds but the Panthers (24-9), in their second season in the Sun Belt, held on and will make their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2001.

Kevin Ware, who suffered a severe leg injury during Louisville's run to the 2013 national championship, scored 18 points for Georgia State, the only double-figure scorer in the low-scoring game, while Hunter finished with nine.

Ryan Harrow, Georgia State's leading scorer and a transfer from Kentucky, missed the game with a strained hamstring.

Jelani Hewitt had eight points to lead Georgia Southern (22-9), which did have a field goal over the game's final 9:30.

Hunter was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound of Ware's missed jumper. Georgia Southern's Curtis Diamond missed a 3-point attempt with 7 seconds left but tracked down the rebound and called a timeout as he jumped out of bounds with 5.1 seconds left. Eric Ferguson took Georgia Southern's final shot, missing from the left side.

TIP INS
Georgia State: The Panthers held opponents to 38.4 percent shooting this season, ranked in the NCAA's top 15. Georgia Southern was held to 22 percent (11 for 48) on Sunday. ... Georgia State outscored Georgia Southern 20-10 in the paint, but allowed more offensive rebounds (15) than it collected (12).

Georgia Southern: The Eagles advanced to the finals with a 44-43 win over Louisiana-Monroe, the first time since 1997 that a Sun Belt Tournament game was won with 44 or fewer points. ... Hewitt was held to 2-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. He entered Sunday's game ranked 21st nationally with 2.9 3-pointers per game. ... Ferguson went 1 for 5 from behind the arc on Sunday. He entered the title game shooting 34 percent on 3s.

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