By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
Basketball season is upon the entire nation including College Basketball of all college programs. The South Alabama Jaguars men’s basketball program was feeling good going into their first game of the season against Pikeville College. The Jaguars were projected to by the national media to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship this season due to the talent returning. Their first test of the season was a Pikeville Bears that went 25-9 last season and is currently ranked #5 in the NAIA division.
In the beginning of the game, the Jags started off slow as their shots were not following through for consistent points. They also struggled to find the easy points by missing their free throws. The Bears tied the game five times before taking a one-point just 9:23 minutes into the first half with a 14-12 score. Jags forward Josh Ajayi, forward Trhae Mitchell, and guard Chad Lott helped led the team over the small deficit as South took off heavily after that.
Their shots were going in more consistently and they kept up their aggressive defensive presence since the beginning of the game. The Jags displayed an excellent progression of passing the ball to their teammates each of the main scorers were getting their chance to stretch out their lead. The Jaguars ended the first half with a 33-20 lead including a 20-6 scoring span for South Alabama after they allowed a one-point lead just before the halfway point of the first half.
Head coach Richie Riley knew his Jaguars needed to come out in the second half with more efficiency than in the first half. The Jaguars scored 14-of-34 shots in the first half, including shooting 0-for-9 from three-point range. In the second half, the Jaguars went 19-for-30 in their shots including making 5-for-9 from the three-point range. The Jaguars played with intensity and consistency against the Bears, who could not find an answer to stopping the high talent level of the Jaguars.
Midway through the second half, the Jaguars outscored the Bears 27-10 as they were up 60-30. From there, the Jaguars were adding onto their lead as their biggest lead of the game was by 37 points with 3:46 minutes left in the game with a 79-42 score. The rest of the bench quickly came to finish out the decisive 82-51 victory over the Bears. The Jaguars outscored the Bears 49-31 in the second half. They were more efficient shooting the ball as they went 19-for-30 (63.3%) of their shots. They also scored 55.6% of their shots behind three-point range (5-for-9).
Five Jaguar players finished the game with at least 10 points or more. Forward Josh Ajayi accounted for 13 points (5-for-6 from field goals), 13 total rebounds, and three blocks. Ajayi was highly aggressive in the paint on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Guard Chad Lott led the team in scoring with 18 points (8-for-12 from field goals), five rebounds, and three steals. Forward Trhae Mitchell accounted for 15 points (7-for-9 from field goals), five rebounds, four steals, and nine blocks. Mitchell was all over the court making plays on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Coach Riley compared Mitchell to a swiss army knife as he was multi-dimensional in every aspect of the game for the Jaguars.
The South Alabama Jaguars (1-0) will host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1-0) on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Mitchell Center.