Arkansas State (19-12) vs. Georgia State (24-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 15, 3 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: New Orleans Lakefront Arena (8,933) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: Arkansas State 11-4, Georgia State 13-0. Away Record: Arkansas State 7-8, Georgia State 10-6. Neutral Record: Arkansas State 1-0, Georgia State 1-1. Conference Record: Arkansas State 10-8, Georgia State 17-1. Series Record: Georgia State leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: The first Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinal contest will get underway at 3 p.m. and will feature the fourth-seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves taking on the top-seeded Georgia State Panthers at New Orleans Lakefront Arena.
The winner of this showdown will earn the first spot in the league's title game on Sunday against either Louisiana or Western Kentucky.
Arkansas State received a first-round bye as the fourth seed in the Sun Belt Conference at season's end. The Red Wolves needed everything they had to outlast Arkansas-Little Rock, 116-114, in four overtimes Friday night.
Georgia State nearly ran the table in the Sun Belt Conference this season, owning a 17-1 league record when the regular-season schedule came to a close. The Panthers won 21 of their last 22 games on the year, including a season- ending defeat of the second-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 73-55, last Saturday.
Georgia State leads the brief all-time series between the two programs, 3-1. The two teams met twice during the regular season, with the Panthers winning the pair of games against the Red Wolves.
It was an absolute marathon of a game Friday night between Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock, which needed four overtimes to decide a winner. After almost 60 minutes of play, the game was ultimately decided by a layup with just over five seconds left to play. Ed Townsel led all scorers in the game with 32 points, while Brandon Reed contributed 23 points, Kirk Van Slyke tallied 24, Melvin Johnson III had 19, and Kendrick Washington chipped in a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson III entered Friday's game as the leading scorer, netting an average of 15.2 ppg. Van Slyke was second in scoring before Friday's quarterfinals matchup with 14.9 ppg, and Washington added 10 ppg with a team-high 6.3 rpg. He surpassed both of those totals against UALR. Arkansas State shot 44.3 percent from the floor in a game and a half worth of playing time Friday.
With the top seed in the conference, the Panthers earned a double-bye right on through to the semifinal round. Georgia State put some emphasis on the tail end of its season with the victory over WKU by simply crushing the Hilltoppers as the teams entered the postseason. Georgia State held Western Kentucky to just 37 percent shooting in the first half, including a dismal 1-of-10 shooting from 3-point distance, to gain a 34-23 lead over WKU at the intermission. That lead got even bigger over the course of the second period, as the Panthers held the Hilltoppers to 33.3 percent shooting in the frame. On a team full of scoring threats, it was Ryan Harrow's turn to go off. Harrow netted a team-best 20 points in the win, while Devonta White (19 points) and R.J. Hunter (12 points) each chipped in a double-digit scoring total. Hunter tops the Panthers with 18.5 ppg entering the tournament, followed by Harrow's 17.2 ppg and Manny Atkins' 14.6 ppg average. Atkins leads the team with a 6.1 rpg mark, and White tops the squad with 137 assists on the year.
Arkansas State has to be worn down from Friday's seemingly never-ending contest. Georgia State is a high-powered offensive team that thrived in conference play this season, especially against the Red Wolves. The Panthers should be able to put the ball on the floor and run their way around the tired out Red Wolves Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia State 78, Arkansas State 72
03/15 10:30:45 ET