MOBILE, Ala. -- The young Golden Eagle men's basketball team went toe-to-toe with preseason Sun Belt favorite South Alabama for 40 minutes, but fell just short in a 75-69 defeat on Saturday night in the Mitchell Center.
"South Alabama is a very experienced, talented and well-coached team," head coach Jay Ladner said. "We had the ball around eight feet from the basket and for some reason didn't pull the trigger on the shot, and we turned it over. We gave ourselves a chance to win, and as a coach, you have to identify the reasons why you lost. We're still working hard to get our team developed, from our new coaching staff to our new players."
South Alabama's Josh Ajayi, who would end the night with 30 points, went to the free-throw line with 22 seconds left and a 70-69 lead. He made the first and missed the second, and as Southern Miss sought its game-tying or leading shot, an errant pass outside the paint fell into the hands of the Jaguars once more with six seconds left. The hosts hit four free-throws in the final ticks to close it out.
Artur Konontsuk calmly hit an elbow jumper with 44 seconds left to get the Golden Eagles within 70-69. Southern Miss had trailed 66-57 with 8:29 left before fighting its way back.
Four Golden Eagles finished in double-figure scoring, led by Boban Jacdonmi's 18 points. He was 6-for-9 from the field and 6-for-8 from the charity stripe on the heels of having a career-high 29 points against Delta State. He already has 17 more points than he had last year, and both his scoring and rebounding totals tonight (nine) were career-highs against a Division I foe.
Konontsuk and Gabe Watson each had 14 points, while Leonard Harper-Baker had 12 to go with a game-high 14 rebounds. He had eight points and eight boards in the first eight minutes of play, accomplishing a double-double by halftime.
There were eight lead changes and nine ties over the course of play. The Golden Eagles' largest lead was 23-18 with 8:48 left in the first half, and after South Alabama promptly followed with a 9-0 run, both teams went into halftime deadlocked at 38.
"It was such a hard-fought game with so many lead changes, and I was disappointed because I thought it would have done wonders for our confidence had we been able to pull it out," Ladner said. "A game is never won or lost by one play. There were too many mistakes overall."
Southern Miss (1-1) will hit the road again this week for a Thursday night battle at North Florida. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT.
-Jay Ladner fell to 3-2 against South Alabama head coach Richie Riley. The two faced each other four times from 2016-18 at Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls, respectively.
-Leonard Harper-Baker collected his fifth career-double-double (12 points, 14 rebounds). It was his first in a road or non-conference game. Last year, he accomplished the feat against UAB, WKU, Marshall and UTSA at home.
-Gabe Watson reached double-figure scoring for the fifth time of his two-year career. Artur Konontsuk has accomplished the feat in back-to-back games to begin his freshman season.
-The Golden Eagles boasted a 40-26 rebounding advantage.