South Alabama basketball – When promise meets expectations

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Photo courtesy of Brad McPherson - South Alabama athletics.

South Alabama basketball – When promise meets expectations. 

The South Alabama Jaguars are currently the hottest team in the Sun Belt Conference having won six games in a row and they appear to be peaking at just the right time. 

The Jags are 18-11 on the season including an 11-7 conference record with only two regular season games remaining against Troy (9-20) and Texas State (19-10). 

The Jags are reaching the crossroads of their season where promise meets expectation heading into conference championship week in New Orleans which starts on March 7.

Prior to the start of the season, South Alabama was picked as the favourite to win the highly competitive Sun Belt which is a first in many years for fans in Mobile, AL. The Jags have been the underdog for a very long time and now they’ll be faced with the challenges that come with being one of the favourites heading into championship week.

South Alabama hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and they hadn’t had a winning season since 2012-13 until the arrival of current head coach Richie Riley. 

The 37 year-old Riley arrived in Mobile prior to the start of the 2018-19 season after an impressive two tear stint at Nicholls State where he turned that program around from obscurity to compiling a 35-28 record which included going 21-11 in 2017-18 leading the Colonels to their first conference title since 1998.

Riley said, “Expectations were really high because we were picked to win the league.” He added, “We’re fighting to live up to those expectations and our league has a lot of parody in it but we’re right there in the mix.” 

On the floor, South Alabama is led by a host of seniors including 6-foot-6 forward Josh Ajayi who leads the Sun Belt in field goal percentage (57.4%) and is sixth in the conference in scoring with 15.5 points per game as well as leading the team in rebounds with 7.5 per game. Ajayi was also second team All-Sun Belt last season. 

Riley spoke about his star forward Ajayi and says he is one of the teams leader’s. He said, “Ajayi is having a tremendous year; he’s added more consistency to his game than he’s had in his career.” 

South Alabama has a very balanced attack that also features fellow seniors Chad Lott, Andre Fox and Trhae Mitchell

Lott is a 6-foot-4 grad transfer from Shreveport, LA who is averaging 13.1 points per game. He started his career at Rice before transferring to Howard and then eventually landing at South Alabama and Riley is hopeful he may receive a medical redshirt so he can return in 2020-21 after suffering an injury early in his career at Rice. 

Fox is averaging 12.1 points per game after sitting out last year after transferring from High Point where he was second team All-Big South. 

Mitchell is on the Lou Henson award watchlist for Mid-Major Player of the Year and is a dominant force for the Jags averaging 11.2 points along with 5.7 rebounds per game.

The next two weeks could be the crux for this program at South Alabama with all signs pointing towards an upward trend for the Jags. 

Riley said, “There are a lot of teams that could be cutting down nets in New Orleans but its going to come down to who is playing their best basketball at the right time and who can step up and own those moments.” 

Check out the full interview with Richie Riley here:

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