NEW ORLEANS — The men’s basketball team (17-15, 12-6) advanced to the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship final after defeating Georgia Southern University by a score of 67-58.
Head coach Chris Ogden said the team was already prepared for the quick turnaround it would face if it advanced past the semifinal round.
“Usually we have a 12-hour rule, but today we don’t,” Ogden said. “Guys are already starting to fuel up, get rested, get off their feet. We’ll dive right in.”
The Mavericks, who were picked to finish in 11th place in the Sun Belt by the Sun Belt Coaches’ Preseason Poll, will play in their second consecutive tournament final game. UTA will look to lock up a berth in the NCAA tournament, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by the program since 2008.
Georgia Southern hit first on offense as they started the game on a 4-0 scoring run. Junior forward Jabari Narcis opened the scoring for UTA after he finished a soft layup off the glass. The Mavericks had to find their shot after they went 2-8 from the field in the first five minutes of the game.
UTA gained its first lead with 8:50 left in the first period. Freshman forward Ayoub Nouhi finished a 3-point play to put the Mavericks ahead by a score of 15-12. The Eagles missed on eight of their shots in a four-minute period.
The Mavericks were able to shift the tide as the first period came to a close, and they took a 30-22 lead into the halftime break. Junior forward Andres Ibarguen came off the bench to lead UTA in scoring with 8 points. Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern’s senior guard and 2019 Sun Belt Player of the Year, was held to two points in the period. Brown went 0-5 from the field with his two points coming from the charity stripe.
Brown was ultimately held to eight points on 2-13 shooting for the game.
“We know how good a player he is,” Ogden said of Brown. “Our game plan started right there with controlling him because of how much he does for their team.”
UTA added to its lead at the beginning of the second half. The Mavericks connected on four of their seven shot attempts and tallied 15 points in the period’s first six minutes.
Georgia Southern found a spark with a little under four minutes left in the game. The Eagles outscored UTA 14-3 to regain the lead they had lost earlier in the first half. Both teams went back and forth in the game’s closing minutes, but UTA was able to go on a 10-0 scoring run to secure the victory.
Junior guard Brian Warren led the Mavericks in scoring with 21 points, while Ibarguen followed closely with 12 points.
Warren, who started the game shooting 0-5 from the field, scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half. The Indianapolis, Indiana, native said he kept pushing throughout the game to get past his early shooting slump.
“I knew they would fall eventually,” Warren said. “I just kept playing hard, there was good looks. [The ball] just wasn’t falling.”
The men’s basketball team will face Georgia State University for the third time this season when it takes the court for the tournament final at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lakefront Arena.
Ogden said he enjoys the fact that his team is playing meaningful games at this time of year, but he wants his players to focus on the task at hand.
“It’s exciting, but honestly our focus right now is trying to beat Georgia State, who has beat us twice,” Ogden said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
Photos: Mavericks win semifinal bout against Georgia Southern University
NEW ORLEANS — The men's basketball team defeated Georgia Southern University 67-58 on Saturday to secure its spot in the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship finals.
If the team wins the championship, it will earn a spot in the 2019 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament later this month. The Mavericks haven't qualified for the tournament since 2008.
This is head coach Chris Ogden's first Sun Belt Conference Championship with the team.