Photos by: Lauren Barksdale
By: Michael Hanich and Gracie King
As the South Alabama Men’s basketball team began to warm up for one of their biggest games of the season, the Mitchell Center filled to its largest capacity of over 10,000 people in attendance. In fact, the game was completely sold out. This night made Mitchell Center history as the most-attended basketball game in South’s history with 10,068 attendees. The team faced the #22 ranked team Auburn, a team that should be ranked higher, on November 12th, 2019. Even without three-star players that Auburn lost after last season, including one player that was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, the Tigers were loaded with talent.
Last year, Auburn made their way into the Final Four, making them a worthy opponent for the Jags. The atmosphere in the stadium was unparalleled. Students, faculty, and citizens from all over Mobile came to watch the spectacle. There was not one moment in the game that was not matched by the pure excitement of the crowd. The game stayed relatively tight between the two opponents; there was never a game ending lead by either of the teams. South Alabama managed to stay ahead of the Auburn Tigers for the beginning of the first half, causing a lot of buzz and excitement in the stands.
At the beginning of the first half, the Jags were thriving off the energy from the crowd as they started out with a noticeable lead. Over five minutes into the game, the Jaguars were up 10-5. The first lead change of the game came 6 minutes and 29 seconds in the first half. The Jags came back a few minutes with another lead change. There were three total lead changes in the first half. The Jags’ defense was efficient and persistent against the Tigers as they made it difficult for them to go through transitions and plays. The Jags did themselves in foul trouble early as Jaguars star forward Trhae Mitchell encountered two fouls in only two minutes and eleven seconds into the game. Head coach Richie Riley took Mitchell out for the remainder of the first half to get him prepared for the entire second half.
The lack of Mitchell’s lockdown defensive presence was highly noticeable as the Tigers were efficient with their shooting in the first half with Mitchell off the court. The Tigers made 52.4% of their shot in the first half including 50% (5-of-10) from the three-point range. Mitchell’s absence was also noticeable on the offensive end of the court as Auburn made every shot from the Jaguars highly difficult. The Jaguars made 40% of their shots and missed all three of their three-point attempts. The Tigers went into halftime with a 38-30 score.
In the second half, the Jaguars came out with a fresh mindset to finish the game more efficiently. South Alabama overcame a huge 14-point deficit with 8:16 minutes left in the game. The Jaguars tied the ball at 66-66 with one minute left in the game largely due to Jaguars guard Andre Fox’s 10 points in the span of seven minutes. After a quick dunk by Tigers forward Isaac Okoro with 42 seconds left in the game, Fox came in clutch once again for South Alabama when he put the Jags in the lead thanks to an assist from power forward Josh Ajayi with a three-point shot with 27.5 seconds left in the game.
All the Jaguars needed to do was hold on the lead by making the Tigers’ shot difficult without fouling. The Tigers missed two shots but also tenaciously fought for two offensive rebounds before Isaac Okoro finally got the bucket in for the Tigers with 1.5 seconds left in the game. A heartbreaking last second bucket from the Tigers gave Auburn the 70-69 victory over a loud and energetic Jaguars team.
The Jaguars essentially won the second half by outscoring the Tigers 39-32. The Jags made 50% of their total shots (12-for-24) and 50% of their three-point shots (6-for-12). The Jaguars made the Tigers’ shooting much more difficult in the second half as the Tigers were 39.4% from field-goal percentage and only made 5-of-14 of their shots from the three-point range. The Jaguars reduced Tigers star center Austin Wiley’s role insignificant as the Jags forced the Tigers to play small man basketball. South Alabama seemed faster and more aggressive as they outscored the Tigers in fast breaks 18-to-16, second chance points 11-to-8, and in the paint 36-to-28. The main difference was the foul troubles and the lack of three-point shooting in the first half for the Jaguars.
After the game, head coach Richie Riley mentioned the foul trouble was a killer in terms of keeping the offensive rhythm for the Jags. Turnovers, the lack of efficient three-point shooting, and the fouls were an indication of what got the Jaguars the loss versus Auburn.
Both Ajayi and Fox said the crowd at the Mitchell Center played the biggest part of the game against Auburn. Coach Riley was very enthusiastic about the turnout in the entire stadium and accredited to the city of Mobile and the thriving campus of the University of South Alabama. Coach Riley believes that the Jags can replicate the same energy and performance into wins against future opponents. He also challenged the same attendees and more people to come to the games for that same energy level.
Even though the score didn’t result in an upset win over the #22 nationally ranked Auburn Tigers, the team and coach Riley can use this huge opportunity to build themselves as an even more efficient and dangerous team against other opponents in the future. Even Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl after the game was highly complimentary of the Jaguars team and the turnout on Tuesday night. Coach Pearl mentioned the Jaguars performed well and not because of the underwhelming performance of the Jaguars.
This one-point loss will show up as a loss in the standings, but this was a good victory for the Jaguars’ program to build themselves as a potential powerhouse in the future as stated by coach Riley. The South Alabama Jaguars (2-1) will study film and move on as they will be on the road to take on the Chattanooga Mocs (2-1) in Chattanooga, Tennessee.