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Georgia State wins Sun Belt, secures first NCAA berth since 2001

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Ware: 'It's Like A Dream Come True' (1:43)

Georgia State guard Kevin Ware discussed the Panthers' 38-36 Sun Belt championship game win over Georgia Southern to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament. (1:43)

NEW ORLEANS -- The basket had to be lowered so Georgia State coach Ron Hunter could cut the final pieces of the net following his team's 38-36 victory over Georgia Southern on Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game.

Hunter, whose son R.J. made the deciding free throws with 21.6 seconds left, injured his Achilles tendon in the immediate postgame celebration and had to be helped off the court. He did return to be with his team as they cut down the nets with his snips being a lot closer to the court.

Hunter said the pleasure of embracing his son for a few seconds was worth the pain.

The celebration with his son was short-lived, ending after a hug took the coach to the court at the Lakefront Arena. He watched the rest of the celebration while seeking medical attention on the bench.

"I tore my Achilles on the right side years ago playing basketball," Hunter said. "This was the exact same feeling and I knew when I jumped up ... I knew when I came down that I had done it (again), but instead of stopping right there, I wanted to go celebrate with my team. More importantly I wanted to go celebrate with my son. You don't get many opportunities like that."

Georgia State (24-9) survived the lowest-scoring Sun Belt final since the University of New Orleans defeated South Alabama 22-20 in 1978 and the Panthers played with leading scorer Ryan Harrow, a University of Kentucky transfer, sidelined with a strained hamstring.

Georgia Southern had two 3-point attempts for the win in the final 7 seconds but the Panthers (24-9), in their second season in the Sun Belt, held on and will make their third appearance in the NCAA tournament and first since 2001.

"That was one of the best feelings of my life," said R.J. Hunter, a junior. "I saw my dad running toward me. . Then I saw my teammates rush and it was that moment when everything just paid off. You really can't put that into words. It really hasn't hit me yet, but that moment was one of the best of my life."

Kevin Ware, who suffered a severe leg injury during Louisville's run to the 2013 national championship, scored 18 points for Georgia State, the only double-figure scorer in the low-scoring game, while Hunter finished with nine.

Jelani Hewitt had eight points to lead Georgia Southern (22-9), which did not have a field goal over the game's final 9:30.

Georgia Southern's Eric Ferguson made two free throws with 5:06 left tied the score 34-34. Markus Crider gave Georgia State the lead again with two free throws with 3:24 remaining.

The third tie of the game -- all in the final 9 minutes -- occurred when Georgia Southern's Trent Wiedeman shook off a hard foul to make two free throws with 1:55 left. The teams traded missed 3-point attempts before Hunter was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound of Ware's missed jumper.

Georgia Southern's Curtis Diamond missed a 3-point attempt with 7 seconds left but tracked down the rebound and called a timeout as he jumped out of bounds with 5.1 seconds left. Ferguson took Georgia Southern's final shot, missing from the left side.

"I was hoping one would fall for us right there," Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington said.

TIP INS:

Georgia State: The Panthers held opponents to 38.4 percent shooting this season, ranked in the NCAA's top 15. Georgia Southern was held to 22 percent (11 for 48) on Sunday. ... Georgia State outscored Georgia Southern 20-10 in the paint, but allowed more offensive rebounds (15) than it collected (12).

Georgia Southern: The Eagles advanced to the finals with a 44-43 win over Louisiana-Monroe, the first time since 1997 that a Sun Belt Tournament game was won with 44 or fewer points. ... Hewitt was held to 2-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. He entered Sunday's game ranked 21st nationally with 2.9 3-pointers per game. ... Ferguson went 1 for 5 from behind the arc on Sunday. He entered the title game shooting 34 percent on 3s.

UP NEXT:

Georgia State: The NCAA tournament

Georgia Southern: A possible bid to another postseason tournament

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