By MARQ BURNETT
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Georgia State stormed back from a 22-point second half deficit to knock off Alabama 83-80 on a walk-off 3- pointer from forward Malik Benlevi.
Benlevi was one of four Georgia State players to score in double figures, putting in 16 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Georgia State guard D’Marcus Simonds had a game-high 23 points. Georgia State’s Jeff Thomas and Kane Williams added 14 and 12 points, respectively.
After scoring 31 points in the first half, Georgia State scored 44 points in the final 14 minutes to close Alabama out. Benlevi’s winning 3 was the first time Georgia State led in the game.
“Wow,” Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said. “Really, really proud of our kids. What a great win for us.”
Alabama came out hot for the first 20 minutes, shooting 59 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three, making 8 of 19.
Georgia State came out sluggish in the opening half, but turned up the defensive pressure in the second. Alabama shot just 29 percent in the second half, making only seven shots and just 2 of 9 from distance.
Georgia State outscored Alabama 52-28 after halftime.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson called it a “tale of two halves.”
“I’m the coach, and I’m the one responsible,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “Not the players. It’s me.”
This is the type of loss that can kill a team’s resume when it comes time to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Alabama had a golden opportunity to beat a potential tournament team, but picked the worst time to go cold from the field. That’s now back-to-back tough losses after Alabama lost to UCF in Orlando last week.
For Georgia State, the win is a good boost for the team’s confidence, but even Hunter acknowledged that is doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Hunter said it’s all about getting ready to play in January and February when it’s time for the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The win helped Georgia State rebound from a 78-52 loss at Liberty last week.
Georgia State is now 2-0 against SEC teams after beating Georgia earlier in the year. They will host Chattanooga on Dec. 12.
Alabama will play its second straight home game on Sunday, Dec. 9, when it takes on Arizona at Coleman Coliseum. The game will tip off at noon and will be televised on ESPN.