Southeastern rally comes up just short at South Alabama in The Basketball Classic

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Joe Kasperzyk
(Photo by Erik Williams/Southland Communications)

MOBILE, Ala. – The Southeastern Louisiana University men’s basketball team rallied from 20 points down to tie the game at 66-66 before falling to South Alabama, 70-68, in the first round of the inaugural 32-team The Basketball Classic postseason tournament presented by Eracism Wednesday night at the Mitchell Center.

The Lions (19-15) trailed 54-34 with 12:29 left in the game before they came storming back. Southeastern went on a 16-2 run capped off by a three-pointer by Ryan Burkhardt and a free throw to make it 56-50. SLU hung tough as Joe Kasperzyk, who finished with a team-high 17 points, made five straight free throws to make it 65-64 with 2:29 left.

Southeastern tied it at 66-66 with 1:45 left on a pass down low from Kasperzyk to Jalyn Hinton. Hinton, a graduate transfer, finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and four steals for his eighth double-double of the season.

The Southland Defensive Player of the Year, Hinton finished the 2021-22 campaign with a league-leading 81 blocks, the second most in program history behind Patrick Sullivan’s 102 in the 09-10 season.

The Lions had back to back turnovers after they tied the game which allowed the Jaguars (20-11) to take the lead on a lay-up and hit two free throws to take a four point lead, 70-66, with 22 seconds left and hold off SLU’s rally.

“I’m really proud of our group,” said SLU head coach David Kiefer. “They’re always a fun team to coach and being down 20 points and to tie the game like that just shows the fight this team has and they’ve shown it all year.”

Southeastern, despite being outsized and without the services of leading scorer Gus Okafor, was able to win the rebounding battle, 39-34. Okafor missed the game with a calf injury he suffered in the Lions’ 85-80 win over Northwestern State in the regular season finale March 5.

Freshman Roger McFarlane helped make up for the loss of Okafor as he finished with nine points and eight rebounds to aid SLU.

“We have a bunch of tough minded kids that love to play,” said Kiefer. “They had 10 or 11 offensive rebounds in the first half and we held them to one in the second half and outrebounding them like that. But their length and athleticism bothered us a lot. They got in to passing lanes a lot and turned us over but overall the fight and grit we had tonight, I’m really proud of our guys.”

Southeastern finished 23-for-58 (39.7 percent) and turned it over 16 times. However, SLU forced USA into 13 turnovers that led to 20 points. The Lions finished their season with another stellar performance at the free throw line shooting 15-for-19 from the stripe.

The Lions ended the season with 302 three-pointers to set a school record and fall just six short of the all-time Southland record held by Sam Houston (308 in 2018). SLU also broke the school record with 911 field goals breaking the previous record of 888 which stood since the 1972-73 season. Southeastern totaled 75.8 percent from the free throw line as a team which also is a new program high mark.

Southeastern saw the last games of their careers from Keon Clergeot, Burkhardt and Hinton. Clergeot’s Lions’ career ends with him making 272 of 333 free throw attempts while scoring 806 points in 57 career games. Burkhardt finished with a team-high 82 three-pointers.

“I’m truly going to miss those three,” said Kiefer. “They gave us everything they had and to lose such a heartbreaking game in the Southland title game and then two days later to come in and compete like we did here. I was really lucky to coach those three and this entire team.”

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