Louisiana-Lafayette stuns Georgia State in Sun Belt final

It was absolute devastation for Georgia State as they had to come to terms of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns becoming kings of the Sun Belt.

Xavian Rimmer hit seven 3-pointers in the Sun Belt tournament final to lead the No. 3 Ragin’ Cajuns past the No. 1 Panthers 82-81 in overtime Sunday at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck Louisiana-Lafayette upsets Georgia State to become Sun Belt tournament champions.
Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck
Louisiana-Lafayette upsets Georgia State to become Sun Belt tournament champions.

The win game the Ragin’ Cajuns their first Sun Belt title since 2005 and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, and the Panthers’ run to their first NCAA tournament since 2001 abruptly came to a halt.

Ron Hunter, R.J. Hunter and Manny Atkins talked following the game red-eyed, and emotions poured out of R.J. Hunter.

“It hurts,” Atkins, a senior, said. “We really had our minds set on coming out with this win today after all we did this season…with this being my last year, my senior year, I really wanted to win this game, and it hurts bad.”

“This seemed so close,” R.J. Hunter said. “Just proud of my guys. They gave it all they got,” Hunter was able to say before breaking down in tears and leaving.

“This one game will not be a reflection of what we’ve accomplished this year,” Ron Hunter said expressing how proud he was of his team’s effort in what he called a “dogfight.”

It came down to the final play of the game as Panthers’ forward Curtis Washington came down with a defensive rebound trailing by one with 18 seconds remaining in overtime.

Harrow drove down court and battled down the right side of the lane for a layup but was unsuccessful as Elridge Moore grabbed the rebound.

GSUvsULL-WEBFINAL (15 of 17)
Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck
Harrow scored a career-high 37 points, but missed the last shot of the game to lose in the Sun Belt tournament final.

And just like that, it was over.

“We tried our hardest to keep [Harrow] out of the paint,” Elfrid Payton said. “I tried my best to make sure there was no weak-side rebound, and he missed it. I guess he was due for a miss.”

Harrow did not miss a lot in the game scoring a career-high 37 points shooting 13-of-22 and making 11 free-throws. Harrow did go 0-for-3 beyond the arc.

“[Georgia State’s] tough because they can score in so many ways,” Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach Bob Marlin said.

“Harrow was sensational,” Marlin added. “He was really hard to guard. He got to the basket, made several difficult shots. That was huge for their team to keep them in there.”

The Panthers had a 70-61 lead with three minutes left in regulation, but the Ragin’ Cajuns were able to chip away going on an 11-2 run capped by a game-tying layup from Bryant Mbamalu on a pass from Shawn Long who made the offensive rebound.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck Ragin' Cajun's coach Bob Marlin said he switch his defense to a zone in the second half and said it put his team back into the game.
Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck
Ragin’ Cajun’s coach Bob Marlin said he switch his defense to a zone in the second half and said it put his team back into the game.

Mbamalu was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player following the game.

“The second half we went to a zone defense. It’s kind of a gutsy call,” Marlin said. “I wanted to do it earlier, [but] I didn’t. Kind of hard to do it late. We did it, we got a turnover and made a couple of plays. It changed the pace of the game for just a second and it let us catch back up.”

The Panthers led by as many as 11 points with more than five minutes to go in regulation.

Harrow single-handedly led the Panthers on a run building the Panthers lead by scoring 10 consecutive points.

After shooting 1-for-5 in the first half, Mbamalu started finding his shot shooting 50 percent in the second half for the Ragin’ Cajuns and finished the game with 13 points.

Shawn Long earned his 18th double-double this season scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He ranks eight in the NCAA in double-doubles.

The Ragin’ Cajuns out rebounded Georgia State 46-30 getting 20 offensive rebounds and scoring 17 second chance points.

“They’re bigger and more physical than we are,” Ron Hunter said on the rebounding margin. “That’s what ended up costing us, not so much the turnovers at the end.”

Photo Courtesy: Chris Shattuck
The Ragin’ Cajuns grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in the game. Both Marlin and Hunter said it was a big factor in the game.

“We felt like we could offensively rebound against these guys,” Marlin said adding the Panthers don’t beat themselves but struggle with rebounding sitting in last in turnover margin in the league.

“It gives you an opportunity to get a much easier shot than the first one,” Marlin said. “So, it was a big factor in my mind.”

Louisiana-Lafayette came out shooting the long ball early hitting six 3-pointers in the first half, four of which were made by Xavian Rimmer who leads the Ragin’ Cajuns in 3-pointers made.

The Panthers were aggressive defensively in the first half getting four steals and four blocks, but between shots not falling and Louisina-Lafayette’s 10 offensive rebounds on top of the threes, the Panthers kept trying to overcome a deficit but trailed 35-34 at the half.

Sunday was the fifth time in Georgia State’s history it has played for an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, and the first time the Panthers had played in a conference tournament final since 2002. The Panthers are now 2-3 in games played for an automatic bid into the tournament.

Georgia State was the outright-Sun Belt champions after finishing 17-1 in conference regular season play in its first year in the conference, 25-8 now overall.

The NCAA and NIT selection committees will announce the brackets for the postseason tournaments tonight. Georgia State will be selected for the NIT postseason tournament for being outright-conference champions.