When these two teams met back in February the Georgia Southern Eagles (21-8) bested the Georgia State Panthers (22-9) in a close four-point victory. This time the Panthers made sure to leave no doubt who the dominant team in the Sun Belt Conference is, as they blew out the Eagles 72-55 to capture the regular season conference championship.

The Differences

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While both teams shot around 41 percent from the floor, it was all the “hustle” plays that separated the victorious Panthers from the Eagles in this game. State held a commanding 39-23 edge in rebounds, had three times as many steals, twice as many blocks and won the turnover battle 12-5. Compare that to Southern for merely going 9-25 (36 percent) from beyond the arc compared to the 4-16 (25 percent) shot by the Panthers. Otherwise, the Eagles didn’t lead in any other meaningful statistical categories.

Two-Headed Monsters

Both teams had two key players score double digits. For Georgia State, R.J. Hunter led all scorers with 35 points going 8-17 from the field including a perfect 16-16 from the charity stripe in 39 minutes of play. Curtis Washington added 12 points, five rebounds and one block in 21 minutes on the court for the Panthers. For Georgia Southern, Jelani Hewitt led the Eagles with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes of game time. Trent Wiedeman was second on the team with 15 points, shooting an impressive 7-10 from the field and added two blocks to his stat line in 34 minutes in the game.

Panthers Never Let Up

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Georgia State started off strong, building up a 16-7 lead to start the game and finished the first half up 32-21. Southern was able to cut the deficit to just four points at the 15:30 mark at 38-34 but State responded with a 14-7 run with about 10 minutes left in the game and that ended any chance of a comeback as the Panthers never gave up the 10-point lead for the rest of the game.

Free Throws Really Do Count

Georgia State only led Georgia Southern in free throw attempts by four with 23 compared to 19, but they were so much more efficient, with the Panthers making 20 of their chances while the Eagles could only convert 10 of their opportunities for a huge discrepancy in free throw effectiveness. As mentioned earlier, R.J. Hunter was responsible for 16 of those 23 attempts and made all of his chances. Marcus Crider was the only other Panther to attempt and make more than two free throws.

The Sun Belt Tournament Seeding

As both State and Southern finish as the two top teams in the Sun Belt Conference, they each get a two-game bye as both teams will play their first championship game on March 14 in New Orleans. As the top seed, the Panthers have the 2 p.m. game while the Eagles have the 4:30 p.m. tip-off. All that’s required for an automatic ticket to the NCAA Tournament is to win two games in two days.

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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.