NEW ORLEANS — The men’s basketball team (17-16, 12-6) fell to Georgia State University by a score of 73-64 in the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship final.
UTA advanced to its second straight tournament final after defeating Georgia Southern University 67-58 on Saturday at Lakefront Arena. The team has not advanced to the NCAA tournament since 2008.
Head coach Chris Ogden said his team didn’t make the plays necessary to come out with a victory, but he is proud of the energy the players left on the court.
“I hurt for them, I’ve been here, and we’ll be back,” Ogden said. “I told them that anytime you put as much into it as they have, it should hurt. I’m really proud of our players.”
UTA started a 7-0 scoring run after sophomore guard Kane Williams from Georgia State knocked down two shots from the charity stripe. Freshman forward Patrick Mwamba led the Mavericks in scoring with five points to start the game.
Georgia State stormed back into the game with a little under 10 minutes left in the first half. Foul trouble fell in favor of the Panthers as they were able to jump ahead. UTA held a 23-19 lead before the 10 minute mark hit.
The Panthers took their first lead of the game with seven minutes left in the first half. Georgia State senior forward Jeff Thomas capitalized on three free throw attempts which came after he was fouled going for a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Georgia State led the rest of the way through the first half. UTA was able to cut the Panthers’ lead to one point with 1:11 on the clock, but Georgia State managed to finish two layups to take a 36-31 lead into the halftime break.
Mwamba, junior forward Andres Ibarguen and junior guard Edric Dennis tied for the Mavericks’ lead in scoring with seven points. Williams held the game’s scoring lead with 10 points going into the locker room.
The Panthers came out and finished two quick layups to extend their lead in the opening minutes of the second half. UTA couldn’t get its shots to go down in the first six minutes of the second period. The Mavericks went 0-9 from the field with 14:59 left in the game.
“We just didn’t make the shots,” junior guard Brian Warren said of the Mavericks’ shooting slump. “We played well enough defense, they made a great run after we had made a run. We just couldn’t sustain them.”
Junior guard Tiandre Jackson-Young put an end to UTA’s cold streak after he scored a 3-pointer to bring the score to 43-34.
The Mavericks were not able to get back in front as Georgia State led the entire second period. The Panthers outscored UTA 37-33 in the second half to ultimately seal the game and book a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Ogden said he wants the returners from his young team to keep progressing when the next season comes along.
“Everybody’s gotta get better as individuals,” Ogden said. “We gotta continue to establish our culture, which for the most part is established.”
Warren and Dennis are two of the players who will return to the Mavericks next season. The guards were first and second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points and 14.4 points respectively. Warren was also named to the Sun Belt Conference's all-tournament team for his performance throughout the week.
Dennis said he wants to work on becoming a better leader for the Mavericks.
“[There’s] some areas I could get better in, just leading by example,” Dennis said. “This year, a lot of times I let my body language hold me back. Some of my teammates feed off that.”
Ogden said he didn’t consider the season a success despite reaching the conference championship game after being projected to finish in 11th place by the Sun Belt Coaches’ Preseason Poll. He said the team was successful in building a new foundation for itself, but it didn’t reach the end goal of winning a championship.
“I want to win a championship, so that will always be our standard,” Ogden said. “Our expectation will never change, we want to win championships, and we want to play in the dance.”