By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
March Madness is coming. With the madness comes the chase for every teams’ two important goals, a conference tournament championship and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The South Alabama men’s basketball team has come a long way from underperforming expectations at the beginning of the season to account for six straight wins with four of them on the road. Last Saturday, in the Jags’ doubleheader, the Jaguars were looking to make seven games in a row versus their heated in-state rivals versus the Troy Trojans. On Saturday, the Trojans came out with a 28-point lead to beat Troy 78-63.
This game was a pivotal matchup for the Jaguars versus the Trojans. Even though the Trojans were near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference in terms of performance and wins, this was a trap game for South Alabama. They needed a win to continue their path towards a potential double-bye in the conference tournament.
In the first half, the Jaguars outscored the Trojans 46-30. The Jaguars didn’t get a double-digit lead on the Trojans until 3:10 minutes left in the first half. This was a result of some fortunate turnovers by the Jags and the Trojans’ tenacious defense in the paint. Herb McGee was shooting highly efficiently from behind the three-point arc. Guards Herb McGee and Chad Lott led the team in points scored for the Jaguars in the first half with 12 points each. McGee’s 12-points all came from three-point shooting as he was 4-for-6.
Lott was shooting a perfect 5-for-5 in total field goals and accounted for a team-leading four rebounds and a blocked shot. Forward Trhae Mitchell accounted for three blocked shots. Mitchell, Tyreke Locure, and John Pettway each accounted for two steals. The Jaguars were shooting 68.2% from the field (15-for-22) and 53.8% from the three-point arc (7-for-13). The Jags’ defense held the Trojans to 38.7% from the field (12-for-31) and 38.5% from the three-point arc (5-for-13).
The Jaguars led as many 28-points with 15:16 minutes left in the game after another Herb McGee three-pointer. The Jaguars encountered multiple tough scoring droughts in the second half as the Trojans became more aggressive defensively as the Jags were passing the ball inbounds. After four minutes and 44 seconds, the Jags didn’t score a point until three minutes and 37 seconds of game time. The Jaguars didn’t make another field goal until eight minutes and 37 seconds of game time.
In the second half, the Jaguars shot an efficient 68.8% (11-for-16) from the field and only shot five shots from the three-point arc. The Trojans shot 27 total shots as they were shooting 37% (10-for-27) from the field and 37.5% from the three-point arc (6-for-16). The Jaguars did encounter some inconsistencies offensively in the second half, but they also slowed their tempo down tremendously. Lott scored 10 points (4-for-5) in the second half. The Jags were outscored 33-32 in the second half.
Lott finished the game with a team-leading 22 points and six rebounds. McGee finished with 16 points by shooting 5-for-7 from the three-point arc. Mitchell finished the game with five blocks. This game was especially important for the Jaguars as they were playing with forward/center Josh Ajayi having an inefficient shooting game of two missed shots and four missed free throws as he is still recovering an injury late in the season.
Many players have been stepping in and other players will have to transition efficiently when the South Alabama Jaguars (19-11; 12-7 in Sun Belt Conference play) host the Texas State Bobcats (20-10; 13-6) on Tuesday night for the regular-season finale. The Jaguars are currently third place in the Sun Belt standings while the Bobcats are currently second. This game will ultimately decide which team will join the Little Rock Trojans as the two teams with the double-bye for the 2020 Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament.
The Tournament will officially start on Saturday, March 7th on the leading team’s campus venue. The double-bye teams along with the other two teams in the tournament will be in the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 14th and 15th. The Smoothie King Center is the home of the New Orleans Pelicans.