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Sun Belt Monday night recap: UT Arlington and Georgia State win crucial games

The Mavericks are a game up with four to play

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason Sun Belt player of the year is playing his best basketball at the right time for UT-Arlington.

For the other 11 teams in the conference, it’s a scary situation to see Kevin Hervey at his peak. Georgia Southern saw all of it on Monday night, and the home crowd couldn’t do anything to put off the junior forward.

Hervey’s five three-pointers matched his career high, and his 28 points set a new career high as the Mavericks took down the Eagles, 81-71, to solidify their position at the top of the Sun Belt race.

UT-Arlington moves to 11-3 in Sun Belt play and 21-6 overall, and leads Arkansas State by one game, as the Red Wolves will host Georgia Southern on Saturday.

Fans were treated to a tremendous first half, and Ike Smith came out red-hot for the Eagles in the early going. He scored eight of the first nine Georgia Southern points and 19 total in the first half.

Hervey was equally up to the task in the first half, scoring 12 points in the first 20 minutes, as the two teams traded slim leads for the entire first half.

B.J. Gladden’s long three in the waning seconds of the first half gave Georgia Southern a 40-37 lead going into the break.

Georgia Southern scored the first five points of the second half to briefly open up an eight-point lead at 45-37, but UT Arlington soon found its footing. Guard Erick Neal scored eight points, and Faith Pope made a layup to give the Mavericks a brief 60-59 lead at the 10:16 mark.

UT Arlington then turned to big man Jorge Bilbao in the paint, and he used his strength to his advantage against a smaller Eagles’ frontline.

Bilbao scored 10 consecutive points in a four-minute span, and the Mavericks went from trailing by a point to leading by four until consecutive threes by Drew Charles and Hervey pushed the lead to 75-65 at the under-4 timeout.

Smith scored 27 points for Georgia Southern, who dropped to 10-5 in the Sun Belt, and 17-11 overall.

Georgia State moves into third place

Elsewhere in the Peach State, Georgia State turned a first-half slog into a 67-51 victory over Texas State, in which the Panthers scored 43 second-half points.

Freshman D’Marcus Simonds continued his outstanding freshman campaign with 18 points on 7-11 shooting, and big man Jeremy Hollowell added 16.

The Panthers’ depth came into play yet again as Devin Mitchell scored 14 points and Jeff Thomas pitched in nine points. The win pulled Georgia State into a tie for third place with their in-state rivals at 10-5 in the conference.

Varnado leads Troy over Appalachian State

Troy only led Appalachian State by a point at the break, but Jordon Varnado scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, as the Trojans took down the Mountaineers 76-66.

The Trojans moved to 8-6 in the Sun Belt and have won four in a row, and five out of seven.

South Alabama’s run halted by Coastal Carolina

South Alabama also came into Monday hot, winners of four out of six. But the Jaguars let a 14-point halftime lead at home against Coastal Carolina slip away as the Chanticleers forced overtime.

Colton Ray-St Cyr hit a three with 3:11 to go in the extra session to give Coastal Carolina a 73-71 lead that it would never relinquish. The Chanticleers held on, 81-77.

On Saturday, all eyes will be on the matchup in Jonesboro, as Arkansas State will look to stay on UT Arlington’s heels in the Sun Belt standings with a win over Georgia Southern. The Red Wolves last played on Friday, when they dispatched Little Rock 67-58.