With less than seven seconds remaining, South Alabama (5-2) rushed up court off of a missed free throw and handed the ball to forward Kayo Goncalves, who drilled a buzzer beater to stun Southern Miss (1-3) 76-75.
“My emotions are overwhelming. I don’t know what even happened, it happened so fast. I just remember that they hit a three and it bounced in the rim and it went in,” Southern Miss forward Artur Konontsuk said after the game. “We knew that they can’t shoot a three [because] we’re there contesting it, but he [Goncalves] just made it and that’s what happens in basketball. Can’t do anything about it.”
Head Coach Jay Ladner describes South Alabama’s game-winning shot.
“Give that kid credit, he made one,” Ladner said. “When he shot it, I thought to myself, ‘That’s not good’. I had a good look at it and the thing bounced dang near to the top of Reed Green and [rattled] in.”
Ladner says that he was impressed overall with the team’s performance, but says that errors in execution towards cost the Golden Eagles the game.
“I always say the games are not won and lost on the last play of the game,” Ladner said. “They are won and lost from those possessions up to the last shot of the game. It’s unfortunate for us that we lost, and we’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but overall I was very proud of our team.”
While South Alabama came out with the win, Southern Miss led for the majority of the game, only trailing for four minutes. After scoring only 38 points in its last game against Tulane, the Golden Eagles improved to 51% shooting accuracy and made a season-high of 15 three-point shots.
“Well, of course we had the home court advantage,” Konontsuk said on the team’s improvement in shooting. “You always have to shoot confidently on the home court. Last game, we couldn’t make any [shots]. This game [it was] the opposite. When we make shots, we can play with anybody I think.”
However, the Jaguars shot equally well from the field, with an overall 54% shooting accuracy, sinking 14 free throws. Southern Miss struggled to contain Goncalves and point guard Tyreke Locure, who each scored 18 points and collectively scored nine of the Jaguars’ ten three-pointers.
Southern Miss started with a lead early and did not give it up once in the first half. In his first collegiate game, freshman guard Jaron Pierre Jr. got off to a good start, scoring the first points for the Golden Eagles by drilling a three pointer.
Pierre continued to lead the Golden Eagles throughout the first half by erupting for 19 points, including five three pointers. He also grabbed seven rebounds in the first half. Southern Miss led the Jaguars 37-31 at halftime.
Southern Miss started the second half on a bad note, though, which allowed South Alabama to tie the game. The Jaguars took their first lead of the game a couple minutes later on another run, capitalized by a four-point play from Locure.
The Golden Eagles found its groove again, however, taking back its lead by making four straight three pointers. Konontsuk drilled back-to-back shots, which were both assisted by guard Ladavius Draine. Draine then hit a three of his own, which Pierre quickly added to, making his sixth three-pointer of the night.
After Draine gave up his sixth turnover, South Alabama made a layup to regain the lead 73-72 with less than a minute left. Southern Miss had 19 total turnovers on the game, which South Alabama scored 22 points from.
After guard Tae Hardy took the lead with two of his free throws, Pierre went to the line for two crucial shots. He made the first and missed the second, giving South Alabama the opportunity to make its game-winner. While Pierre’s missed free throw gave the Jags the opportunity to win, Pierre says he and the team did what they could and will move past it.
“It’ll bother me a little, but I can’t really say anything about it,” Pierre said. “I missed it, we got back on defense and they made a tough shot. It was a nice game for us[. We] wanted it bad.”
Pierre finished the game leading the Golden Eagles in points and rebounds. He had 25 points and 10 rebounds on nine of sixteen shots from the field.
“Jaron, he is a hell of a freshman. He’s only 18 years old [and] he’s balling out there,” Konontsuk said. “He’s feeling really confident and I think we really have a lot of potential this season to make a run for it. I think everybody [is] improving, we have a good chemistry. Everybody knows how to play to each other’s strengths. We just have to keep practicing and keep getting better.”
Three other Golden Eagles scored in double figures. Draine contributed 19 points with five three-pointers, Konontsuk scored 12 on four three-pointers and Tyler Stevenson scored 10 on a perfect four of four from the field. Draine recorded six assists and Hardy dished eight assists, both season-highs.
Southern Miss returns to action on Dec. 15 when they travel to Beaumont, Texas to take on Lamar University.