By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
Last Thursday, the South Alabama Jaguars men’s basketball team had to recover quickly from a tough 72-63 home loss to the Georgia State Panthers. Two days later, the Jaguars had to prepare for another top-tier Sun Belt Conference opponent at home in the Mitchell Center versus the Georgia Southern Eagles. In just two days, the Jaguars adjusted their key weaknesses to come out with a huge 74-68 over the Eagles.
The Jaguars started off the game with an 8-2 run before allowing the game to be tied 8-8 with 4:49 minutes into the game. Right after the first timeout, the Jaguars allowed the three-point perimeter to be more open for the Eagles to capitalize on with the score being 16-10 in the Eagles’ favor.
After a fight back-and-forth from the Jaguars and the Eagles, the first half ended with a score of 39-31 with Georgia Southern leading. The Eagles made 9-for-19 (47.4%) from the three-point arc and 13-for-28 (46.4%) of their overall field goals in the first half. The Jaguars were shooting rushed shots and creating inefficient drives as they were shooting 9-for-28 (32.1%) in field-goals overall and were also 2-for-9 (22.2%) from the three-point arc.
The Jaguars were in the game thanks to their productive free-throw shooting as they were 11-for-12 from the free-throw line. South Alabama was doing an efficient job at forcing the Eagles to foul the Jaguars to get to the free-throw line. Jags forward Josh Ajayi led the team in points in the first half with 10 by shooting 3-for-4 in overall field goals and sinking all four of his free-throw shots.
The Jaguars were able to erase an eight-point deficit to tie it up 52-52 in eight minutes and 49 seconds in the second half. The Jaguars came out of halftime with a 21-13 run to start the second half. Throughout the remainder of the second half, it was a back-and-forth fight from both teams. No team led more than three points for more than six minutes of game time until the Jaguars led by four points with a 68-64 score with 1:47 minutes left in the game.
The Jaguars continued to create pressure in the Eagles’ perimeter shooting offense as they have been doing throughout the second half. South Alabama led as many as eight points with 11 seconds left until the Eagles added a bucket in at the buzzer. The Jaguars had a strong second-half performance where they outscored Georgia Southern 43-29 in the second half.
Forward Josh Ajayi finished the game with a team-high 24 points shooting 8-for-10 from overall field goals and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Guard John Pettway accounted for 14 points shooting 5-for-8 from field goals and guard Herb McGee accounted for 15 points and three steals against the Eagles. The Jaguars only allowed seven turnovers as they controlled the ball better than the previous night. The Jaguars accounted for 10 steals and forced the Eagles to turn the ball over 14 times. The Jaguars had a very efficient night of forcing the Eagles to foul them and getting to the free-throw line where South made 25-of-their-28 free-throws.
After the game, head coach Richie Riley addressed this big win to the media by saying, “we held a really, really good team to 29 in the second half.” When asked about the sudden turnaround during halftime, coach Riley mentioned, “we did a much better job of contesting urgencies than the other night.”
The South Alabama Jaguars (12-8; 5-4 in Sun Belt Conference play) will travel to Jonesboro, Arkansas as they face the Arkansas State Red Wolves (13-7; 5-4) this Thursday night at 7 pm.