MOBILE, Ala. (WDAM) _ The University of South Alabama sank five free throws in the final 22 seconds _ Including four in the final six seconds _ to hold off the University of Southern Mississippi 75-69 Saturday night at the Mitchell Center.
USM (1-1) trailed by nine points with 8 minutes, 29 seconds to play, but pulled within 70-69 on a jumper by swingman Artur Kononstuk with 46.6 seconds left in the game.
USA guard Josh Ajayi made 1-of-2 free throws with 22.5 seconds, giving the Golden Eagles a shot to tie or win. But USM turned the ball over and the Jaguars (2-0) put the game away with four more free throws after two more USM turnovers.
“South Alabama is a very experienced, talented and well-coached team," USM 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.”
The last turnovers proved the most costly of the 17 the Golden Eagles committed, and the free-throw line was a huge factor for the Jags, who hit 22-of-24 fouls shots compared to 7-of-10 for USM.
USA’s 91.7 percent free-throw percentage was the third-highest in the program’s history.
USM won the rebounding battle 40-26 against USA.
Forward Boban Jacdonmi led USM with 18 points and nine rebounds. Forward Leonard Harper-Baker posted his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds while adding three steals.
Kononstuk and guard Gabe Watson added 14 points apiece.
Ajayi finished with a career-high 30 points, including 20 in the second half. He also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out three assists.
Andre Fox added 16 points and three assists, while Trahe Mitchell had 12 points and four assists for the preseason Sun Belt Conference favorites.
"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."
USM will travel to Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday to take on the University of North Florida at 6 p.m.