Ragin’ Cajuns drop heartbreaker to South Alabama in Sun Belt second round

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Stroman sets SBC Tournament single-game record with 13 assists; Cajuns finish season 19-13

NEW ORLEANS – Rodrick Sikes sank a go-ahead free throw with 4.6 seconds remaining and Josh Ajayi scored 19 of his team-high 25 points in the second half as No. 8-seeded South Alabama stunned No. 5-seed Louisiana, 70-69, in the second round of the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Thursday at Lakefront Arena.

South Alabama (17-16), which snapped a five-game losing streak to Louisiana (19-13), advanced to face fourth-seeded Texas State in the quarterfinals on Friday at 5 p.m.

JaKeenan Gant, one of three seniors making in their final appearance in a Louisiana uniform, posted a double-double with a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Marcus Stroman dished out 13 assists, setting a Sun Belt Tournament record for most in a single-game.

Neither team led by more than six points in a game that featured seven ties and 10 lead changes. South Alabama led 43-39 on a 3-pointer by Herb McGee with 16:39 remaining before the Ragin’ Cajuns responded with a 9-0 run.

Gant, who finished 11 of 19 from the floor and 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point line, drained a 3-pointer for the Ragin’ Cajuns before a bucket by Jerekius Davis would give Louisiana a 44-43 lead.

An off-balance jumper by P.J. Hardy in the lane and a bucket by Cedric Russell gave Louisiana momentum and its biggest lead of the game – 48-43 – with 12:58 left.

But the Jaguars would respond with a 14-3 run of their own, taking a 57-51 lead on a 3-pointer by Kory Holden with 9:13 remaining. Two free throws by Ajayi gave South Alabama a 66-60 lead with 4:46 left before Louisiana would start another rally to regain the lead.

Two free throws by Davis and a 3-pointer by Russell cut the Jaguar lead to 66-65 and Stroman would get a steal and layup for a 67-66 advantage with 2:30. But McGee would answer for South Alabama with a 3-pointer, the Jaguars ninth of the game, for a 69-67 lead at the 2:04 mark.

The score would remain the same with Gant, an 80-percent free throw shooter, missing a pair of attempts with 1:03 left and Hardy missing a wide-open 3-point attempt after a steal by Stroman.

Sikes, who scored 15 points for the Jaguars, was eventually fouled after the missed attempt by the Ragin’ Cajuns and made his second attempt for a 70-69 lead.

Louisiana drove the ball into the front court, and after a timeout Russell’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell off the back iron.

Davis scored 17 points off the bench for Louisiana with Russell recording a career-best four steals. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 28-for-59 (48 percent) from the floor, 6-for-22 (27 percent) from behind the 3-point line and 7-for-11 (64 percent) from the free throw line.

South Alabama finished 23-for-53 (43 percent) from the floor, was 9-for-23 (39 percent) from long range and 15-for-18 (83 percent) from the charity stripe.

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