New Orleans, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top two seeds of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament collide in the league finals on Sunday as the second- seeded Georgia Southern Eagles take on the top-seeded Georgia State Panthers at Lakefront Arena.
The winner earns the league crown and the Sun Belt's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Southern locked in a defensive battle with UL Monroe on Saturday, as the second-seeded Eagles came away with a narrow 44-43 victory to advance to the championship in their first season with the conference. It was Southern's first contest since a loss to the Panthers in the regular-season finale just over a week ago.
Georgia State also earned a bye all the way through to the semifinal round after finishing the season with 14 Sun Belt wins. The Panthers moved past Louisiana, 83-79, in a matchup against the defending tournament champions.
Georgia State beat Georgia Southern in the regular-season finale, 72-55, but that game was redemption for the Panthers, who were downed by the Eagles earlier in the year by a 58-54 margin in February.
Neither Georgia Southern nor ULM shot the ball well at all in Saturday's semifinal bout. The victorious Eagles hit on a mere 28 percent of their shots from the field, but luckily got a strong effort from the team's defense in containing the Warhawks to 30.4 percent from the floor. Jelani Hewitt and Trent Wiedeman each netted 11 points to pace the Eagles, while Curtis Diamond came off the bench to chip in 10 points in the low-scoring affair.
Hewitt has been sensational this season for the Eagles, leading the team and ranking third in the conference with 17.9 ppg - finishing behind two Georgia State players in the category. As a unit, Georgia Southern is netting 69.2 ppg headed into the title bout, and is allowing a mere 60.9 ppg to opponents on 39.3 percent shooting. Hewitt scored 17 points and dished out five assists to pace Georgia Southern in the loss to Georgia State in the regular-season finale, in which the Eagles connected on 9-of-25 shooting from 3-point distance.
R.J. Hunter did everything he could to help his team beat Louisiana on Saturday in a rematch of last year's Sun Belt title fight. The guard collected 32 points and notched eight steals defensively to pace his team. Markus Crider nearly finished with a double-double, adding in 15 points and nine rebounds, while Isaiah Dennis came off the bench to chip in 10 points in the narrow victory.
Georgia State is an offensive powerhouse and the Panthers proved they can compete with anybody during the regular season by connecting on a solid 48.4 percent of their shots for 73.0 ppg. Hunter heads into the championship game leading the team and the Sun Belt in scoring with 20.1 ppg, followed closely by fellow backcourt mate Ryan Harrow and his 19.4 ppg. Neither guard has been selfishly shooting the ball all season, considering each has recorded at least 103 assists through 32 games. The last time the Panthers met Georgia Southern, Hunter dropped 35 points and Curtis Washington contributed 12, while Crider barely missed a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.