Georgia Southern nearly mounted a comeback to remember. But a Georgia State mistake worked out anyway, and the Eagles were sent packing from New Orleans.
The Eagles trimmed what was an 18-point first half deficit to just three in Saturday's Sun Belt Conference semifinals, but could get no closer in a 73-67 loss to arch rival Georgia State. The Panthers advance to Sunday's title game against UT-Arlington.
"The finality of it hurts. I hurt for our senior group, who has done a tremendous job building Georgia Southern basketball," head coach Mark Byington told GSEagles.com. "I am really proud of our guys' effort. We fought and fought and just could not get a break."
It doesn't help the Eagles that a Panther mistake ended up sealing the game for State.
Southern trailed 66-63 and had a chance to get a stop as the clock ran under 30 seconds. As the shot clock drained to one second left for the Panthers, a pass bounced off Tookie Brown's leg for a kickball.
That reset the shot clock to 20 seconds with 23.1 seconds remaining on the game clock. After a Panther timeout, State inbounded the ball from their sideline. Thinking there was still just one second on the shot clock, Devin Mitchell caught the pass, turned, and fired a desperation heave from just in front of the Panther bench that went in nothing but net.
Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter was visibly stunned as Mitchell celebrated on the way back down the floor.
"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 three, 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," Byington told GSEagles.com. "Those are two big ones that were in the last minute of the game, and there was probably 20 more in the game."
The Eagles couldn't get out of the blocks offensively in the first half, shooting just 35% from the floor, and trailed by 15 at halftime. But Southern battled back in the second, getting the Panthers into foul trouble and chipping away at the free throw line.
It was a six point deficit with just under a minute to play when Quan Jackson stole a Panther pass, and converted it into a layup and the foul to make it a three-point game.
The Eagles struggled to make baskets from long range, shooting just 5-21 on threes. Senior Jake Allsmiller, the team's best three-point shooter, went 0-8 from behind the arc. Allsmiller and senior Mike Hughes combined for just nine points in what could be their final game as Eagles.
Tookie Brown led Georgia Southern with 25 points, while Ike Smith put in 16 points and Quan Jackson added 10 more off the bench.
Georgia Southern finishes the season at 21-12.