NEW ORLEANS — Led by a strong second half, Georgia State earned a 72-45 win over Arkansas State on Saturday afternoon at Lakefront Arena to advance to the Sun Belt Championship Game on Sunday afternoon. Redshirt-junior Ryan Harrow led the Panthers with 20 points and R.J. Hunter added 16 in the win.
Georgia State (25-7) won for the 22nd time in its last 23 games and will look to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 facing either Western Kentucky or UL Lafayette. The Panthers have won eight straight games, tied for the third longest winning streak in program history.
Harrow, who earned All-Sun Belt First Team honors on Tuesday, finished 9-of-14 from the floor, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and dishing out four assists.
Sophomore R.J. Hunter, the Sun Belt Player of the Year, added seven rounds, knocking down three 3-pointers. Hunter set a new single-season school 3-point record with his 95th trey of the year. He also moved into fifth on the single-season school scoring list with 572 points.
“I thought we came out a little tight in the first half, but then started to settle down as we got into the flow of the game,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “We spent the entire week working on our defense. Today that defense helped us pull away in the second half.
“We now are one game away from our second goal and making the NCAA tournament. I know this team will be ready for the game on Sunday. We have 40 minutes to go.”
Arkansas State (19-13) took an early 7-2 lead before Georgia State responded with a 9-4 run to take an 11-10 lead on a jumper by Hunter with 11:41 to play in the first half.
With the game tied 15-15, Georgia State used a 14-2 run to take a 29-17 lead with 3:26 to play as Harrow knocked down the first of back-to-back 3-pointers.
Georgia State went into the half lead 32-24 after making just 4-of-15 3-pointers in the first half.
However, the Panthers pulled away in the second half, shooting 13-of-22 (59.1-percent) and outscoring the Red Wolves 40-21 after the intermission.
Senior Manny Atkins finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for the Panthers, while senior Devonta White added seven points and six assists.
White became just the second Panther in program history to start 100 games and has now played in 117 in his career. He will enter play on Sunday just one point shy of tying for third on Georgia State’s all-time scoring list. White currently has 1,374 points in his four-year career.
Sophomore Markus Crider came off the bench to add five points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 20 minutes of play.
Georgia State finished the game shooting 50.0-percent from the floor while holding Arkansas State to just 32.1-percent shooting.
The Red Wolves were led by Kendrick Washington’s double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Melvin Johnson III added 10 points and six rebounds less than 24 hours after Arkansas State went to four-overtimes with UALR in the Sun Belt Semifinals.
Georgia State improved to 6-1 all-time as a No. 1 seed in conference tournaments, winning the TAAC in 2001 and falling in the final of the Atlantic Sun tournament in 2002. Sunday will mark the fifth time in program history that the Panthers play for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Georgia State will face either No. 2-seed Western Kentucky or No. 3-seed UL Lafayette in the Sun Belt Championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2.