A 40-foot heave by Georgia State University’s Leonard Mendez ended the Tribe’s season Friday in the first round of the CAA Tournament in Richmond. The 68-70 defeat drops the College to 15-15 overall for the season and their all-time CAA tournament record to 3-22.
p. “I saw the clock with one second and threw it up towards the rim,” Mendez said. “I gave it a heave. I didn’t know if it was on target.”
p. His buzzer-beating shot, however, touched nothing but net and allowed the Panthers to escape with a victory after a furious comeback attempt by the College. Trailing by 10 at halftime and by as many as 13 in the second half, the Tribe rallied three times in the second to trim double-digit leads down to workable margins.
p. Two free throws from sophomore Alex Smith with one minute, 17 seconds remaining cut the Panthers’ lead to seven. A missed free throw gave the Tribe the ball back with 55 seconds remaining and junior Nathan Mann drilled a long three-pointer from the wing to close the gap to four. With 42 seconds left, Georgia State’s Ron Larris connected on one of two free throws and kept the door open for the College.
p. The Tribe got the ball to Mann, who created his own shot at the top of the key and drained the three-pointer, bringing the College within two with 25.3 seconds left. After another Tribe foul, Georgia State’s Ryan McBride stepped to the free throw line and missed, allowing Adam Payton to grab a rebound and dribble down the court.
p. A solid screen from Smith freed Payton, who took off down the lane with his left hand and kissed the ball off the glass for a layup. Payton was fouled on the shot and he knocked down the free throw to put the Tribe ahead by one with 4.7 seconds left.
p. Enter Mendez. Georgia State Head Coach Michael Perry drew a play up to get Mendez the ball for the final shot. Although Mendez lost control of his dribble after passing midcourt, he regained possession in time to release his game-winning shot.
p. “It looked like it was good from the minute it left his hand,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said.
p. Mendez’s last-second heroics were worthy of the lead segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter 6 p.m. telecast Friday.
p. Many of the Panthers’ shots were good Friday, as they connected on 11 of 19 three-pointers, including seven of nine in the second half. Four Georgia State players reached double figures, including Mendez, who led his team with 17 points, while his teammate McBride scored 14 points, hitting four second half three-pointers.
p. Payton’s 15 second-half points kept the Tribe in the game as he finished his career with a 19-point, six-rebound and three-steal outing in 37 minutes.
p. “I think Adam Payton carried the team on his back,” Shaver said.
p. “I don’t think I’ve seen a team with this will to win. The will to win was incredible in the huddle in the second half.”
p. This desire ignited the offense, as the College erupted for 49 second-half points while shooting 60 percent from the floor. Three players joined Payton in double figures – Mann with 12, Smith with 10 and junior Laimis Kisielius with 13.
p. “We had a good season,” Kisielius said. “You always remember the losses, especially if it ends this way.”