NEW ORLEANS — Saturday’s semifinal game between Louisiana-Monroe and Georgia Southern came down to which team made the big shot when it counted.
The Eagles knocked theirs down, the Warhawks missed theirs, and Georgia Southern advanced to the Sun Belt Conference tournament final with a white-knuckle 44-43 win.
After Eagles point guard Jelani Hewitt missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with eight seconds remaining, UL-Monroe sprinted down the court and got a great look at a buzzer-beater to win.
But Justin Roberson’s driving layup bounced off the rim, and the Eagles started celebrating a trip to the tournament final in their first year in the SBC.
The Warhawks jumped out to their biggest lead of the game when Nick Coppola hit a jumper to put them ahead by eight with 13:08 remaining.
But the Eagles fought back, going on a 10-2 run over the next 3:30 to tie the game at 33 with 9:38 remaining.
With the score evened up, the teams traded baskets and stops for most of the remainder of the game. The lead changed hands five times in the final 9:11, and every time one team would come up with a big basket the other always seemed to have an answer.
The Eagles took the lead for good with 1:49 remaining, when Curtis Diamond sank a deep 3-pointer to put the Eagles ahead 44-43.
Diamond had just missed a shot from the same spot, but Georgia Southern pulled down an offensive rebound and got it back to Diamond, who never moved after his first attempt.
The Warhawks missed their last four shots and didn’t score in the final 2:59.
Trent Wiedeman (11), Hewitt (11) and Diamond scored double figures for the Eagles, while Coppola (12), Jamaal Samuel (12) and Majok Deng (10) each scored double figures for UL-Monroe.
Georgia Southern will face in-state rival Georgia State at noon Sunday for an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament.