South Alabama coach Matthew Graves has not talked specifically about Austin Peay with his players, but he knows they are aware of the wild results in conference tournaments across the country.
Austin Peay won the Ohio Valley tournament as a No. 8 seed, winning four games in four days in a double-bye format exactly like the one the Sun Belt uses.
South Alabama, the No. 8 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, took the first step in what it hopes will be the same journey, beating No. 5 seed Georgia Southern 67-61 in the opening round on Thursday at Lakefront Arena.
The Jaguars (14-18) advanced to what has been a favorable matchup against No. 4 seed Louisiana-Lafayette (16-13) in the second round on Friday at 5 p.m.
“What is it now, 11 or 12 1 seeds in 14 conference tournaments have been beaten?” Graves said. “We focus on the next possession of the next game and try to really compartmentalize that. If you start thinking ahead, you really lose sight of the now.”
South Alabama has beaten Louisiana-Lafayette in three of their past four meetings, including an 83-70 victory on Feb. 27 in Mobile.
“We have some confidence,” Graves said. “We know it’s going to be a very hard-fought game. The great thing for us is we were in this situation last year, where we played on opening night and had a quick turnaround against a very good (Louisiana) Monroe team (a 77-59 loss). We know what that’s going to feel like.”
The Jaguars played with plenty of confidence against Georgia Southern, completing a three-game sweep while leading wire to wire.
Trailing 34-16 at one point in the first half, the Eagles rallied within 3 on three occasions after the break but never had the ball with a chance to tie.
South Alabama finished in style, extending a 56-52 advantage to 66-58 with a long 3-pointer by Barrington Stevens, an emphatic dunk in transition by Nick Stover, a 3-point play off a circus shot from Barrington and an alley oop to John Brown on consecutive possessions.
The Jaguars overcame a rough shooting night from leading scorer Ken Williams, who went 4 of 16 from the floor. Guard Shaq Calhoun had 15 points, Stover added 14 and John Brown contributed 12 in a balanced effort.
For the third time in three games at Lakefront Arena over the past two years, Georgia Southern (14-17) could not find the basket, hitting 19 of 57 overall and 4 of 23 3-point attempts.
Last season, the Eagles were seeded second and went 14 of 50 in an ugly 44-43 semifinal win against Louisiana-Monroe and 11 of 48 in an even uglier 38-36 championship-game loss to Georgia State. They returned with a starting lineup of three sophomores and two freshmen and showed their youth, committing 16 turnovers that led to 25 fast-break points.
The Jaguars will look for a bounce-back from Williams against the Cajuns in what should be an up-tempo game. He scored 41 points in their two regular-season matchups, including 25 in Mobile.
“The bottom line for us is we’ve got to stay focused and know it’s going to be a game of runs and extremely physical,” Graves said. “If we have more possessions than them, we’re going to be OK.”