UTA’s Hervey, Cross cap memorable season with individual honors

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NEW ORLEANS – The UTA Mavericks equaled their highest win total in program history for the 2016-17 season, and its two biggest contributors in junior Kevin Hervey and head coach Scott Cross were awarded top honors on Monday as the Sun Belt Conference announced its men’s basketball all-conference teams and individual awards.

Hervey, a junior, earned the first-ever Sun Belt men’s basketball Player of the Year award in UTA’s program history, while Cross did the same with the Joe Gottfried Coach of the Year honor. Voting for the individual awards and All-Sun Belt teams were conducted by the league’s 12 head coaches along with a selected media panel.

Louisiana senior Jay Wright earned the Defensive Player of the Year award while his teammate Frank Bartley IV won the Newcomer of the Year honor, which returned as an individual award after a seven-year hiatus. Freshman of the Year honors went to Georgia State guard D’Marcus Simonds.

Hervey followed up his Preseason Player of the Year nomination, after his stellar 2015-16 season was cut short by a season-ending knee injury, by playing in 30 games with 23 starts and averaging a team-high 17.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in all but three games this season, which all came during the first six games of the year, including nine games where he scored 20+ points. He notched 12 double-doubles and was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Week honoree (Dec. 6 and Feb. 20).

Wright led the Sun Belt in steals (1.9 per game) in the regular season and finished the year in the Top 10 in scoring (15.6 ppg), assists (4.1 apg), field goal percentage (.451), assist/turnover ratio (1.8) and minutes played (34.2 mpg). He had a team-best eight games with 20+ points and had 11 games on the season with three or more steals. Wright is the second Louisiana student-athlete in the past four years to win the Defensive Player of the Year award following Elfrid Payton’s honor in the 2013-14 season.

Simonds led all Sun Belt freshman and ranked No. 9 overall with 16.0 points per game in conference games this season. He led all student-athletes with a .559 field goal percentage in conference games. He won the tournament MVP honor at the Cancun Challenge after he scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in a win vs. NJIT. Simonds is the first-ever Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honoree in Georgia State history.

Bartley played in his first season with the Ragin’ Cajuns after he transferred from BYU and sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rule. Bartley ranked eighth in the Sun Belt in scoring (15.9 ppg), 12th in assists (2.5 apg), third in steals (1.7 spg) and sixth in field goal percentage (.455). He scored in double figures in 22 games including eight games with 20 or more points. The Newcomer of the Year award, which was last given in the 2008-09 season to Richard Delk of Troy, honors the top non-freshman student-athlete playing in his first year with a member institution.

Cross is the third coach in the last four seasons to earn his first-ever Joe Gottfried Coach of the Year award. He led the Mavericks to a 24-7 overall record and a 14-4 conference record en route to their first-ever outright Sun Belt title. The 24-win season marks the first time UTA has had consecutive 20+ win seasons in program history and tied a program record for single-season victories.

UTA earned its first-ever win over an Associated Press Top 25 team with a 72-61 victory at then-No. 12 Saint Mary’s, and its first-ever win over the University of Texas, this season. Cross is in his 11th season and has amassed a 201-146 career record at UTA.

Georgia Southern sophomore Tookie Brown earned his second consecutive First Team All-Sun Belt honor, while Hervey, Eagles sophomore Ike Smith, Texas State senior Kavin Gilder-Tilbury and Troy sophomore Jordon Varnado all earned their first-ever All-Sun Belt honors. Brown and Smith led the Sun Belt in scoring at 17.5 and 19.9 points per game, respectively. Gilder-Tilbury led the Bobcats in scoring (16.8 ppg) and recorded just the 17th 500-point season in Texas State program history. Varnado led the Trojans in points (16.2), rebounds (6.9) and blocks (1.4) per game.

The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship begins on Wednesday, March 8, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. For the first time since the tournament moved to New Orleans, all 12 teams will compete for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. All games of the tournament will be televised by ESPN3, and available on the WatchESPN app, with the championship game set for a 1 p.m. CT tip and a nationally-televised ESPN2 broadcast on Selection Sunday.

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First Team All-Sun Belt
Tookie Brown (Georgia Southern, Sophomore, G, Sport Management)
Ike Smith (Georgia Southern, Sophomore, G, Sport Management)
Kevin Hervey (UTA, Junior, F, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Kavin Gilder-Tilbury (Texas State, Senior, F, General Studies)
Jordon Varnado (Troy, Sophomore, F)

Second Team All-Sun Belt
Devin Carter (Arkansas State, RS Senior, G, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State, Senior, F, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Bryce Washington (Louisiana, Junior, F, Accounting)
Jay Wright (Louisiana, Senior, G, General Studies)
Erick Neal (UTA, Junior, G, Broadcast Communications)

Third Team All-Sun Belt
Ronshad Shabazz (Appalachian State, Sophomore, G, Undecided)
Jaylen Shaw (Coastal Carolina, Junior, G)
D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State, Freshman, G, Undecided)
Frank Bartley IV (Louisiana, Junior, G, Sociology)
Wesley Person (Troy, Junior, G, Global Business)

Player of the Year
Kevin Hervey (UTA, Junior, F, Interdisciplinary Studies)

Defensive Player of the Year
Jay Wright (Louisiana, Senior, G, General Studies)

Freshman of the Year
D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State, Freshman, G, Undecided)

Newcomer of the Year
Frank Bartley IV (Louisiana, Junior, G, Sociology)

Joe Gottfried Coach of the Year

Scott Cross, UTA

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