LAFAYETTE – P.J Hardy and Cedric Russell hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the second half to snap a 77-all tie and JaKeenan Gant continued his stellar beginning to Sun Belt Conference play as the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team earned a hard-fought 88-84 win over South Alabama on Thursday at the Cajundome.
Jerekius Davis added 17 points as Louisiana (12-7, 3-3 SBC) sank 12 3-pointers and evened its record in league play. South Alabama, which was led by double-doubles from both Trhae Mitchell and Jay Ajayi, dropped its fifth straight game to fall to 9-11 overall and 2-5 in SBC play.
Neither team led by more than five points and battled through a contest that featured 11 ties and 19 lead changes. South Alabama held a 77-75 lead on a free throw by Ajayi with 4:12 remaining before a pair of buckets by Justin Miller would give the Ragin’ Cajuns the lead.
Mitchell, who finished with a career-high 31 points while grabbing 12 rebounds, knotted the game at 77 with a jumper with 2:39 remaining before Louisiana would take the lead for good.
Hardy, coming off a career-high 24-point performance at ULM, buried a 3-pointer to give Louisiana an 80-77 lead before his steal on the Jaguars’ ensuing possession would lead to a 3-pointer by Russell at the 1:33 mark for the game’s biggest lead of the night.
Louisiana led, 86-79, after Hardy made the first of two free throws, but the Ragin’ Cajuns would miss three straight attempts at the charity stripe allowing South Alabama to rally.
Herb McGee sank a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 86-82, and after Russell missed a pair of free throws, a bucket by R.J. Kelly cut the Louisiana lead to 86-84 with three seconds left.
But Gant, who scored 28 points with eight rebounds and three blocks, sealed the game with a pair of free throws after getting fouled on the ensuing inbounds.
Louisiana led 41-39 at halftime and 46-41 on a dunk by Gant with 18:23 remaining in the game. South Alabama scored eight straight points to take a 49-46 lead before Russell tied the game with a 3-pointer with 15:37 left.
Hardy scored 18 points for Louisiana, which finished 28-for-58 (48 percent) from the floor and 12-for-27 (44 percent) from behind the 3-point line. Russell scored a season-high 15 points for the Ragin’ Cajuns while Marcus Stroman dished out a game-high eight assists.
Ajayi scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for South Alabama, going 10-for-14 from the free throw line. John Pettway added 14 points for the Jaguars while McGee added 10.
Louisiana will return to action on Thursday (Jan. 24) when it plays host to South Alabama in a Sun Belt Conference game. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.