By Kevin Sweeney
UT-Arlington point guard Erick Neal is best known for his passing. After all, he ranks 4th nationally in assists per game.
Mavericks fans will be happy he chose to take matters into his own hands tonight.
Neal kept the ball in the closing seconds and drained a contested 3-point shot with 0.9 seconds to lift UT-Arlington to a big 68-67 road win over Georgia State on Saturday afternoon. The win keeps the Mavericks atop the Sun Belt Conference standings, half a game ahead of Arkansas State.
Georgia State came into the game on a 2 game skid, but looked much more like the Panther team that started 9-2 in conference play today. The Panthers led by as many as 15 in the second half, but in the end they couldn’t hold on for a win that could have put them in position for a Sun Belt regular season title.
A 13-2 run late in the first half gave Georgia State a lead that they would not relinquish until Neal’s three in the closing seconds.
That lead would balloon to double figures in the middle stages of the second half, but UT-Arlington got hot from downtown late and got enough stops to come away with a victory. The Mavs hit 7 triples in the final 10:20 after just 3 in the first 29:40 of action. In that same 10:20, the Panthers turned the ball over 9 times to aid the UT-Arlington comeback.
Despite the late struggles, the Panthers still led by 7 with 2:10 to go but were outscored 10-2 in the final 2 minutes to see the win slip through their grasp.
The comeback was capped by a three by Jalen Jones, tying the game at 65 with just 46 seconds to play. But fearless freshman D’Marcus Simonds responded for the Panthers with a tough jumper to give GSU back the lead with 22 seconds to go.
Then came the decisive final possession. The play was almost certainly not how Scott Cross had drawn up, as very little seemed to be happening as the clock ticked under 5 seconds. But Neal stepped into a contested 35-footer and drained it, sending the Mavericks’ bench into a frenzy and the GSU Sports Arena crowd into despair.
Georgia State’s desperation heave from beyond half court wasn’t close.
Kevin Hervey led 4 Mavericks in double figures with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Drew Charles added 16 for UTA.
Jeremy Hollowell led all scorers with 19 points for the Panthers, who drop their third straight. Simonds also added 11 points.