New Orleans, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-seeded Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and the top-seeded Georgia State Panthers will meet in Sunday's Sun Belt Conference championship game, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, at New Orleans Lakefront Arena.
With the third seed in this event, Louisiana earned a bye into the quarterfinal round where the team took down UT Arlington, 91-85, on Friday. Then the Cajuns upset second-seeded Western Kentucky, 73-72, in the semifinal round to earn a spot in Sunday's title bout.
Georgia State nearly ran the table in the Sun Belt Conference this season, owning a 17-1 league record. By virtue of the top seed in the conference, Georgia State earned an automatic double-bye into the semifinals. The Panthers were victorious against the fourth-seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves, 72-45, on Friday to earn a championship game berth.
Georgia State leads the short all-time series with Louisiana, 4-2. The two programs met twice during the regular season, with the Panthers winning each outing. The first victory was by a seven-point margin, and the second by a mere three points.
With 1:16 left to play in regulation, guard Elfrid Payton connected on a layup to give his Ragin' Cajuns a one-point lead, 73-72. That score ended up being the deciding factor against Western Kentucky, as Louisiana held on the for the win. Both Elfrid Payton and Bryant Mbamalu tallied 23 points apiece, while Payton dominated the stat sheet in the upset win, adding seven rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Mbamalu notched five boards in the contest. Payton leads the team with a 19.1 ppg average, followed closely by Shawn Long at 18.9 ppg. Long, who scored nine points and grabbed just three rebounds in the win, averages a double-double in 32 games played with a 10.4 rpg mark. Mbamalu rounds out the Louisiana double-digit scorers with 12.5 ppg.
Arkansas State didn't prove to be much of a challenge for the top-seeded Panthers, despite the fact that the team hasn't taken the court for game action in a week. It didn't matter, especially for the Georgia State defense, which allowed just 36 percent shooting in the first half, as the Panthers took a 32-24 advantage into the intermission. It got worse for the Red Wolves, who were outscored 40-21 in the second period en route to the one-sided Georgia State victory. Ryan Harrow led the team with 20 points, while R.J. Hunter tallied 16 points with seven rebounds. Manny Atkins added 12 points with seven boards of his own. Hunter enters the championship game as the team's leading scorer at 18.5 ppg, while Harrow adds 17.3 ppg and Atkins chips in 14.5 ppg. Atkins' 6.2 rpg mark is a team-high headed into Sunday's title clash, while Devonta White leads the team with 143 assists. The Panthers are scoring an impressive 77.9 ppg through 32 games played on the year.