SU-Mobile, Nov. 11

Southern's F.G. Clark Activity Center sits in silence as Southern forward Rishonti Cowart is examined by paramedics on Saturday, Nov. 11, in Baton Rouge, La.

For 20 minutes, Southern's F.G. Clark Activity Center fell to complete silence, with only the murmuring of whispered prayers heard throughout the arena.

Players and coaches from Southern and the University of Mobile fled the floor. Some began shrieking, hoping to shake the visual they had just witnessed.

With 9:01 remaining in the Lady Jaguars' season-opening 86-54 win against Mobile, Southern junior forward Rishonti Cowart collapsed to the arena's court with a broken right leg — one that spun her right foot nearly 180 degrees from its normal direction.

In any game, the injury is devastating. During the closing moments of the 2017-18 season opener with a 36-point lead, this one sustains overwhelming sadness for Southern and set an arena filled with about 100 people in abrupt shock and disbelief.

"I just shared with the kids, while we were having to hold her in prayer, they've got to be mindful that someone has to fill that void," Southern coach Sandy Pugh said. "We're one soldier down ... She's a hard-nosed and resilient kid."

Cowart was hurried by local paramedics to Lane Regional Medical Center hospital in Zachary. It's unclear whether she had immediate surgery.

During a news conference to preview the 2017-18 season one month ago, Pugh said this year's team — a youthful bunch driven by an aggressive, experienced batch of upperclassman — has potential to be her best squad in 19 seasons at Southern.

Southern's season-opening win, a 32-point blowout of Mobile on Saturday, had its flaws. But the Jaguars' start to a possible banner year was about as dominant as the school preferred.

None of that much mattered by the end.

Opening day turned trivial as Cowart's junior season likely ended on Day 1. 

With Cowart as a featured piece off the bench, the Jaguars were much too quick, far too aggressive and immensely overwhelming, eliminating any sliver of a puncher's chance Mobile had.

Southern's defense suffocated Mobile's offense with a mixture of full- and half-court presses, limiting the Rams to nine points in the first quarter and just 54 in the game.

"We call it 40 minutes of mayhem," Pugh said.

The Jaguars' full-throttle defense may have had some extra juice because Saturday was the season's first game. Or maybe because it was Southern's first game in Baton Rouge — and its only one there until early January. 

Beginning with a 7 p.m. tip at Indiana on Tuesday, the Jaguars have a 10-game stretch of road games for the next two months. They don't play again at home until Jan. 6 versus Grambling.

Even with seven freshmen on the roster, Southern's starting core — three juniors and two seniors — displayed its experience Saturday.

Part of that experience and crispness was generated from Cowart, whose loss darkened a special day.

"Rishonti's a very quiet, very humbled young lady," Pugh said. "Very smart. She's our top GPA kid on the team. She doesn't bother anybody ... Like I was telling the kids, somebody's got to step up and fill in that void."