The South Alabama men’s basketball team is one win away from going to the Big Dance for the 10th time overall and the first time since 2008. The Jaguars moved one step away from an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid with a 75-66 victory over James Madison in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals in Pensacola.
South Alabama entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed, but the Jaguars were one of the hottest teams in the conference. South Alabama started 1-7 in conference play. They regrouped and won eight of the final 10 SBC games. In the tournament, the Jaguars knocked off No. 9 seed Appalachian State, No. 1 seed Southern Miss and No. 4 seed James Madison.
On Monday, South Alabama plays No. 2 seed Louisiana in the SBC Championship game. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be telecast on ESPN2. Louisiana beat South Alabama twice in the regular season. The Ragin Cajuns beat the Jaguars, 79-76, in Mobile and 76-64 at home. The win at Louisiana was the final regular season game of the season.
South Alabama earned the rematch in a game that James Madison never led. The Jaguars led for 39 minutes and 18 seconds and built an advantage of as much as 12 points. James Madison shot 39 percent from the field and was just 2 of 16 on 3-pointers.
Kevin Samuel had just four points for the Jaguars, but the South Alabama big man played a critical role by providing 12 rebounds and two blocks. The Jaguars had four double-figure scorers. Isaiah Moore had 18 points and five assists, while Owen White scored 17 points with four 3-pointers. In 3 tournament games, White is 12 of 24 on 3-pointers. Greg Parham II had 16 points, and Tyrell Jones had 10 points and five rebounds.
“I feel so happy for this group of dudes,” said South Alabama head coach Richie Riley. “I can't express how happy I am for them to have a moment like they just did and then get to have a moment tomorrow night when they have an opportunity to tip it up, 40 minutes. The winner goes dancing. I mean, it's so hard to get there and have the opportunity. These kids have earned that. I can't tell you how much this team has gone through. And they have never blinked, never complained, and they just bowed up and fought. And fought themselves all the way into a conference championship game.”
West Alabama 67, West Georgia 65: The No. 2 seed Tigers won the Gulf South Conference Tournament for the first time since 1983. With the win goes the automatic bid from the SBC to the NCAA Division II South Region Championship.
In a game that was close throughout at the Pete Hanna Center, West Alabama's Terry Durham gave the Tigers a 65-59 lead on a layup with 2:42 remaining. West Georgia scored the next six points to tie the game. Shardarrion Allen provided the final points on a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining. West Georgia's 3-point attempt at the buzzer failed, and West Alabama won the championship.
Justin Allison was voted as the tournament MVP. He had 18 points with three 3-pointers in the championship game. Thaddeus Williams had 14 points, and CJ Melton added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
NCAA Division II Men's Basketball South Region Championship:
Unbeaten Nova Southeastern, which averages 104 points per game, will play host to the regional in Davie, Florida. The regional begins on Saturday, the semifinals will be on Sunday, and the championship game is Tuesday, March 14. The Sharks play SIAC Tournament champion Miles College (23-6) in the first round at 4 p.m. CT.
West Alabama (26-5) drew the No. 2 seed in the regional and will play SIAC regular-season champion and No. 7 seed Tuskegee (20-8) at 2:30 p.m. CT. UAH, which shared the Gulf South Conference championship with West Alabama, earned the No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 seed Embry-Riddle (19-11) at 11 a.m. CT. UAH is 25-7.
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