On Saturday at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Georgia State men’s basketball earned an 83-79 victory over the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, advancing the Panthers into the Sun Belt championship game on Sunday.
“Our kids in the first half were very aggressive, but we somewhat lost it in the last four or five minutes,” head coach Ron Hunter said after the game. “I’m really proud of our guys. We beat a good basketball team. Defensively, we were really good up until the last few minutes.”
Georgia State’s lead grew to 24 points in the second half before the Cajuns rode a late surge, trimming its deficit to as little as four.
For the Panthers, this brought back flashbacks of last seasons championship game when the team led by 11 with five minutes left in regulation only to have its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed in overtime with an 82-81 defeat to UL-Lafayette.
“It was, kind of, deja vu because it was the exact same way they got back in the game last year,” R.J. Hunter said.
He also said that he got over last year’s loss to the Cajuns last summer. Hunter finished with 32 points in a winning effort for the Panthers.
Georgia State and UL-Lafayette traded the first six-points prior to freshman Cajuns forward Bryce Washington and sophomore guard Jay Wright scoring two-pointers, giving ULL a 10-6 lead. The Panthers embarked on a 13-0 run led by eight Hunter points. Markus Crider also scored three and Isaiah Dennis scored two as Georgia State assumed a 19-10 lead.
The Panthers maintained their nine-point lead with scores of 21-12, 23-14, and 25-16. That lead became 25-17 as junior forward Devonta Walker made a free throw after converting on a layup when Curtis Washington fouled him.
Walker later made another free throw off a Ryann Green foul, then sophomore guard Hayward Register made a three, making it a 25-21 game.
Four more Dennis points and two more Hunter points extended Georgia State’s lead to 10 at 31-21.
The Panthers maintained their 10-point lead at 33-23, then upped it to 35-23 as Hunter converted a steal into a fastbreak dunk.
Junior guard Kasey Shepherd made a three, cutting UL-Lafayette’s deficit to 35-26. Hunter scored five more and Kevin Ware made two free throws, increasing the Panthers lead to 16 at 42-26.
After Wright made a free throw off a Ware foul, Dennis closed the half with a dunk, upping the Panthers’ lead to 44-27 going to halftime.
Ware began the second half with a layup, followed by Shepherd hitting a three, cutting the UL-Lafayette deficit to 46-30. An 8-0 Georgia State run with Hunter and Washington each scoring four upped the Panthers’ lead to 54-30.
Georgia State maintained its 24-point advantage with leads of 55-31, 57-33 and 59-35. Walker later made two free throws, making it a 59-37 game.
The Panthers’ lead stayed at 22 with 60-38 prior to Walker making the second of his two made free throws, producing a 60-39 score.
After Hunter made another jumper, Shepherd made another three, making it 62-42 with 7:42 remaining. Long later made one of two from the line, bringing UL-Lafayette within 62-43.
Georgia State’s lead stayed at 19 with a score of 64-45 after two more Walker points. Walker also made a free throw, then Long converted on a three-point play, making it a 64-49 score.
The Panthers managed to keep the lead at 15 with scores of 66-51 and 68-53, but Louisiana-Lafayette made it closer as freshman guard Johnathan Stove made a free throw and Wright made a layup. Crider later made another free throw, extending the lead to 13 at 69-56.
With the score at 71-58, Ware made another free throw, growing Georgia State’s lead to 14 at 72-58. Five straight points by junior guard Steven Wronkowski made it a nine-point game at 72-63 with under three minutes remaining.
Crider and Green scored two more, growing the Panthers’ lead back to 13 at 76-63. Georgia State maintained its 13-point lead at 77-64 before it grew to 78-64 as Hunter made the second of two made free throws.
With the score at 80-66, Shepherd increased his point output to 13, drawing Louisiana-Lafayette closer at 80-68. Hunter late made one of two from the line, producing an 81-68 Panthers lead.
Sophomore guard Hayward Register later made a shot from three-point range, cutting UL-Lafayette’s deficit to 10 at 81-71 before Green made one of two from the line, extending Georgia State’s lead to 82-71.
That lead was cut to 82-73 as Long converted on a dunk. Green made another free throw with 12 seconds left, upping the Panthers’ lead to 83-73.
Shepherd and Register made threes, cutting the UL-Lafayette deficit to 83-79, but Georgia State held on as time expired to an 83-79 win. The Panthers advance to the Sun Belt championship game vs. Georgia Southern on Sunday at 1 p.m.