Georgia State clinches share of Sun Belt title

Georgia State clinched a share of the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season title with a 77-49 road win over Texas-Arlington on Thursday night. It is Georgia State’s first regular-season title since it shared the Atlantic Sun in 2001-02.

The Panthers are one more win, or a Western Kentucky loss, from winning the title outright. The Panthers secured one of the conference tournament’s top-two seeds, which come with a bye to the semifinals. Georgia State (21-7, 14-1) plays at Texas State on Saturday.

“I’m just so happy that we have given the people of Georgia State a Sun Belt Conference championship in our first year,” coach Ron Hunter said. “I told the guys before the game, ‘this doesn’t come around every year. You’ve worked hard for it, enjoy it.’

“We want to share it with everyone: our city, our school, our alumni should be excited about what’s happening right now.”

As they have been the past few games, the Panthers were led by Manny Atkins and Markus Crider. Atkins, a senior and the Sun Belt’s player of the week, tied a career-high with 27 points. Crider also tied a career-high with 12 points, a mark set in the previous game, and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Ryan Harrow added 15 points.

Trailing by five at the halftime, the Panthers went on a 23-4 run to take a 52-38 lead. Atkins scored 11 points during the run. Rashaad Richardson, in for R.J. Hunter, hit two 3-pointers during the run.

The insertion of Crider into the starting five in the second half solidified a defense that limited the Mavericks (12-15, 7-8) to 35.7-percent shooting.

“Markus is playing so well it’s incredible,” Ron Hunter said.

R.J. Hunter, Georgia State’s leading scorer, was held out of the second half for precautionary reasons after appearing to suffer a minor knee injury in the first half. He scored four points in 19 points.

But the Panthers didn’t need him with Atkins continuing to fire away.

He finished the game hitting eight of his 17 shots, including five of his 11 3-pointers. He scored 17 points in the second half.

Ron Hunter elected to change Georgia State’s defense in the second half to stop the dribble-penetration that Texas-Arlington used successfully in the second half. With Crider in and the ineffective Curtis Washington (no points and two rebounds in 10 minutes) out, the Mavericks shot 25 percent in the second half after hitting 41.7 percent in the first half.

“I thought we were OK in the first half defensively,” Ron Hunter said. I just felt we were rushing offensively. WE weren’t playing with the energy I wanted to.

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