Williams buzzer beater lifts Jags past Arkansas St.
MOBILE, Ala. - A 3-pointer from University of South Alabama senior Ken Williams (Houston, Texas) with 0.8 seconds left gave the Jaguars a 73-70 victory over Arkansas State Saturday afternoon at the Mitchell Center.
The win snaps a four-game losing streak for the Jaguars, who finish the regular season at 14-17 and 7-11 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Red Wolves fall to 20-11 and 11-7.
The Jags earned the No. 9 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament, and will play at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday against an opponent to be determined.
"I'm obviously very proud of the team today," USA head coach Matthew Graves said. "They played an extremely hard-fought game. Arkansas State is a top team in this league. I couldn't say enough about the seniors. I thought they really dug in. They competed. We got down 12 in the second half, and it would have been easy to coast to finish it off at the Mitchell Center. Those guys dug deep, they battled, and they competed. Every possession mattered, and they were huddling together.
"It was really great to see that one more time here in the Mitchell Center and it really gives us some confidence heading into Sun Belt Tournament play next week."
Williams finished with a season-high 25 points and set the school's career 3-point record; the game-winner was his 251st.
"You just knew Ken deserved to make that on senior day," Graves said. "He's worked so hard. He's represented South Alabama extremely well. He's going to graduate and go down as one of the best players to ever put on a uniform, and he deserved to make that shot, and I'm so happy for him."
Arkansas State's Devin Carter hit a 3-pointer of his own with 28.0 seconds left to tie the game at 70-70, and the Jags took over with 20.9 seconds left after a timeout. Williams evaded a double-team at the top of the key and hit a one-legged floater.
"We just ran a flat ball screen, the same play we ran previously when he dropped it off to Nick Davis for the two-handed dunk," Graves noted. "I thought Juice did a really good job. He was composed, he took his time, and credit to him for making a play. We had seen that shot a lot in practice. He does a good job with his shot fake, and if guys get antsy, he's got that one-foot step through, so we've seen him make that shot before."
The Red Wolves went on an 18-4 run spanning halftime to go up 11 early in the second half and took its biggest lead of the game - 58-46 - with 13:46 left in the game.
USA answered with a 16-2 rally, getting the final six points from senior Nick Stover (Los Angeles, Calif.) on an old-fashioned three-point play in addition to the go-ahead 3-pointer with 7:12 on the clock.
The Jags didn't hit another field goal for nearly 4 minutes and handed the lead right back to the Red Wolves, but Williams hit a pair of free throws and a layup to knot the score at 66-66, then dished to junior Nick Davis (Mt. Vernon, Ala.) to go up 68-66 with 1:39 to play.
Williams went back to the line for two with 37.6 seconds left and made both for a three-point advantage, but Simms hit a contested triple at the top of the key to knot it at 70-70, setting the stage for Williams' heroics.
The Jags got back in the game thanks to their defense. After starting the half 7 for 9 from the floor, the Red Wolves made just three of their final 12 attempts and had six turnovers.
"The big adjustment that we made was going completely no-help on Devin Carter," Graves stated. "He had probably 20 points with 12 minutes to go, and he was really feeling it. To his credit, he made a big shot to tie it, but we kept him quiet for six or seven straight minutes. I know he was out of the game some, but he just didn't really get an opportunity. We rotated Shaq (Calhoun), Nick Davis, and Trhae Mitchell, and our guys did a great job helping. Our bigs did a great job not getting over-extended, and it was really a good effort in that middle stretch to get us back in the game."
Four of USA's five starters scored in double-digits. Williams led the way with 25, and Stover added 15 and three assists. Junior Shaq Calhoun (Rome, Ga.) scored 12 - his first double-digit game since Jan. 14 - and senior Don MuepoKelly (Fontana, Calif.) posted 10 with two blocks and steals each.
"There was a different look in their eyes tonight," Graves said. "During the huddles, you could just see there was a different look that they didn't want to let each other down. They did not want to lose on senior day. They did not want to let this one slip away."
Carter finished with 25 for A-State, and Deven Simms came off the bench to pour in 13. Donte Thomas dished out eight assists.
NOTES: Arkansas State had won the previous four games in the series in Mobile... The last Jaguar to make a shot in the last five seconds to win the game was Augustine Rubit vs. Troy on Jan. 29, 2012... USA set a new season high with nine blocks; Davis tied his career high with three, and Williams, MuepoKelly and senior Georgi Boyanov (Lovech, Bulgaria) had two apiece... Williams also set the school's career record for games played with 126... Williams tied his season high with four 3-pointers in eight attempts... South Alabama went 9 for 17 from 3-point land as a team, tying its season-best performance... The Jags improved to 4-13 this season when being outshot (51.1-45.5) and 2-10 when losing the bench points (22-8)... USA was outrebounded 33-27 but had 16 second-chance points to A-State's eight... The Sun Belt's top team in turnover margin, the Jags won the battle 15-9.