Ticket punched: Kevin Ware propels Georgia State to tourney, coach gets hurt in celebration (Video)

Sam Cooper

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Georgia State won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 in a 38-36 defensive struggle over Georgia Southern.

It was the second time the Panthers knocked off the Eagles in eight days, but this one was far different than the 72-55 victory last Saturday. In that game, GSU leading scorer R.J. Hunter put up 35 points to lead all scorers. On Sunday, it was Kevin Ware – the Louisville transfer who suffered a gruesome leg break during the 2013 NCAA tournament – who put up 18 points, his second-highest point total of the season.

Hunter struggled with only nine points on 3-of-15 shooting, but hit two deciding free throws with 21.6 seconds to go. Georgia Southern had a chance for the win with two 3-point attempts in the final seconds, but both missed and the Panthers celebrated.

Amid the celebration, GSU head coach Ron Hunter – R.J.’s father – was injured and the prognosis isn’t good. After the game is was revealed that Hunter tore his right Achilles tendon.

“When I saw the red lights go off I jumped up,” Hunter said after the game, per NOLA.com. “I tore my Achilles years ago on the right side playing basketball when I was 26. It was the exact same feeling. I hadn't jumped that high in 26 years. I knew when I came down. Instead of stopping right there, I wanted to go celebrate with my team. But more importantly I wanted to go celebrate with my son.”

Hunter was given a pair of crutches to use and perhaps more importantly, the basket was lowered, allowing him to cut down the net.

The team was planning to fly back from New Orleans (where the game took place) to campus in Atlanta, but now they’ll make the trip via bus to accommodate Hunter’s injury. He also said there’s not a chance he’ll miss the NCAA tournament.

"The team doctor is here and she said we'll probably just cast it and we'll do everything after the tournament,” Hunter said when asked if he would need surgery.

“They wanted me to stay back here, but I'm going back with my guys. I'm not staying in New Orleans. We'll deal with this [Monday]. But nothing is going to keep me from going to the NCAA tournament and celebrating with my guys tonight. It'll be the best bus ride back I've ever had.”

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!