Recap: Jeff Price era begins with 77-62 victory over West-leading Arkansas Little Rock

December 22, 2012 · By · Filed Under Basketball, Men's 

The Jeff Price era of South Alabama basketball is off to a good start, with the Jaguars defeating Arkansas Little Rock, 77-62 to take sole possession of first place in the overall Sun Belt Conference standings. While Western Kentucky is also undefeated in the SBC, they are 2-0 and playing outside of the league tonight against nationally-ranked Louisville.

It was an overall good day for Price who had just four days to prepare for the Trojans following the surprise retirement of former head coach Ronnie Arrow. Price had served as Arrow’s assistant from 1989-1993 and again for the last two years.

“I was obviously very pleased with our effort,” Price said. “I thought we came out with good energy after we got over that lull at the beginning of the game. I was really happy with the way we shared the ball. Our assist-to-turnover ratio was really good. We were really good defensively against a pretty good team. … Really pleased with the way we finished the game. I’m trying to get this team to have a little more killer instinct and to know how to put people away. Each time they got close we built it up and it ended up being 15.”

Down 15-13 roughly 10 minutes into the game, momentum had already started to shift from the Trojans to the Jaguars when USA unleashed a 16-0 run to take a 29-15 lead. In response, Little Rock head coach Steve Shields was forced to call a time out.

The Jaguars had raised the tempo from what had started out as stoic to hectic after the first five minutes, challenging shots and never giving up on second chance scoring opportunities. Not even the UALR time out could stop the momentum as the Jaguars maintained the frantic pace and ended the half with a 39-30 lead.

Little Rock got close on several occasions in the second half but could never take back the lead. The Trojans went on a 12-4 run halfway through the period but could only get as close as three points. The Jaguars eventually built on their lead and steadied it to around nine points for most of the game and ended left with a 15 point victory.

They did it using a balanced attack of consistent shooting, a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and while also forcing the young Little Rock team to turn over the ball 21 times. The total package resulted in a double-digit victory for the second time.

The only apparent flaw in South Alabama’s game was their struggles from the free throw line, which was limited to 17-of-28 attempts — a 60.7 percent clip.

The team appeared energized by the change in leadership and responded to Price by delivering their most-impressive victory since defeating nationally-ranked Florida State, 76-71 on Nov. 9. Stevens said the transition from Arrow to Price “wasn’t drastic” and added that his leadership led to the team playing “more loose.”

“Coach Price is a great coach,” Stevens added. “He lets us play and I feel like we got 100% from everyone who stepped in and played today. We tried to not think about the transition and focus on our progression to become a championship team.”

After defeating Arkansas Little Rock on Saturday, the Jaguars are one step closer. The Jaguars are the only 3-0 team in the conference and stand at 6-5 overall. The Trojans drop to 8-6 and 2-1 in the SBC.

The season will take just a short break for Christmas and will resume on Dec. 29 when Arkansas State visits the Mitchell Center. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.

Notables:

Augustine Rubit scored his 1,000 career point on Saturday, becoming just the 16th player in school history to accomplish the feat.

Jeff Price on talking to Ronnie Arrow before the game:

“It’s been, as you can imagine, quite a whirlwind the last few days and I have spoken with Ronnie and his spirits are good and he wished us luck. I’m sure I’ll talk to him again after the game. It’s interesting to see how everyone’s going to react. I think everyone’s just sitting and waiting to see how we would react and early in the game we were down 7-1 and it just took a little time.

“It was like hey, we better get going and time to move on. I thought once we reacted to that and moved on and got into the flow of the game it was good. You just learn in this business you just have to go on to the next chapter and move on. This game will make us realize that we can be a championship caliber team and just keep getting better.”

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