Mobile, Ala. — Ronald Douglas came off the bench to collect 15 points and eight rebounds Saturday, including a stretch in which he scored six in a row in the final four minutes to help South Alabama hold off Western Kentucky University 65-61 in a Sun Belt Conference basketball contest at the Mitchell Center.
Tyrone Brazelton connected on a three-pointer with just under four minutes left to cut the Hilltopper deficit to one, 54-53, but Douglas answered with a dunk, a free throw and a tip in of a missed shot to push the Jaguar advantage back to 59-53 with little more than two minutes left. Still up 60-57 with 21 seconds to go, Daon Merritt grabbed a rebound of a miss from three-point range by WKU and found Demetric Bennett for a layup at the other end of the floor that sealed the victory for USA, which picked up its eight consecutive victory while improving to 12-3 overall, 4-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Brazelton scored 15 of his game-high-tying 20 points after the break for the Toppers, who fell to 10-5 overall and 2-1 in the SBC, while Courtney Lee chipped in with 20 points as well. He also added a team-best seven boards and three assists.
WKU returns to the road Thursday when it faces Louisiana-Monroe at 7:30 p.m. (CST) in the second half of a doubleheader with the Lady Toppers.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to make plays down the stretch, and that collectively the battle between our guys and theirs on the interior was going to be a big key. That was the difference in the game,” WKU head coach Darrin Horn said. “Not only do they make a few plays down the stretch, but offensively we went four or five trips where we didn’t even get a shot. You cannot do that in a game like this.
“We defended well enough to win, without question, but didn’t come up with a couple of key boards late.”
With the game knotted 29-29 at the break, the two teams took turns putting together mini-runs, although after Bennett opened the scoring 18 seconds into the second period with a layup the Jags never trailed. He added another layup 26 seconds later to double the advantage, but WKU came back to force a 35-35 tie when Lee hit a jumper with 15-and-a-half minutes left.
Bennett answered with a trey — he finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four steals — and Douglas added a tip in for a 40-35 edge, however Ty Rogers connected from three-point range and Lee scored another basket to even the contest. Each team scored five in a row again, with Brazelton collecting each WKU point, before two Merritt free throws with 7:17 remaining gave USA the lead for good, 47-45.
Merritt played only seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but managed to finish with a game-high five assists while helping the Jaguars limit their mistakes to just 12 turnovers, one shy of matching an opponent low this season.
WKU had 14 miscues on the night, including eight after the intermission. Both teams shot less than 42 percent overall, but USA overcame four more threes from the Toppers by recording 10 steals and hitting 21 free throws.
Brandon Davis posted 13 points and five rebounds for the Jags, and DeAndre Coleman added 11 boards although each team finished with 37 rebounds. Mike Walker matched Lee with seven to pace WKU, with D.J. Magley and A.J. Slaughter chipping in with five boards apiece.
Defense dictated the first half of the opening period. Douglas scored seven straight points for the Jags, who were only up 11-8 with 10-and-a-half minutes to go after he converted a three-point play, as the two teams combined to miss 17 shots while committing seven turnovers during that span.
WKU then made the game’s first run, scoring nine straight points in less than two minutes with Lee making four free throws and Rogers adding his second three-pointer of the half as the Hilltoppers were ahead 17-11 — their largest lead of the night — with 8:50 to go.
Brazelton and Rogers also hit treys in the last two-and-a-half minutes before the break to help the Toppers recover from a four-point deficit to tie the game at the half.
Rogers had 11 points, making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, before fouling out.
USA — which ended up connecting at a clip nearly 10 points higher than the Hilltoppers over the first 20 minutes — struck in between those two spurts with a run of its own, collecting 14 of 18 points over a four-minute stretch for their biggest advantage, 25-21, with three-and-a-half minutes left.