Western was unable to survive 21 turnovers and a five-point performance from senior center Nigel Dixon, losing Saturday to South Alabama. Western has now started Sun Belt Conference play 0-2.
Despite falling behind by 13 points with eight minutes remaining in the second half, the Toppers closed the gap to one point when freshman forward Ryan Lambert completed a three-point play at the 1 minute 17 seconds mark.
The Jaguars then hit six free throws in the final 33 seconds to seal a 72-66 victory.
Coach Darrin Horn said he was proud of his players for battling back at the end but the turnovers really hurt his team.
“We did a poor job of taking care of the basketball,” Horn said. “That was the difference in the game.”
After the team fell behind, Horn went with a smaller line-up when South Alabama began fouling Dixon in the paint instead of allowing the 320-pounder to get a shot off. Dixon went 1-6 from the foul line in 18 minutes of action and pulled down seven boards.
“Going smaller allowed us to do some things defensively and get back in the game,” Horn said.
Mike Wells scored 19 points to lead the way for the Toppers, who had four players in double figures including Lambert, who had a strong outing with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“We knew we needed to win that game,” Wells said. “We just came up short. If we had limited our turnovers it probably would have been a different [game].”
After losing the first two conference games, Western once again finds itself in a hole as it did at the start of the season.
Sophomore guard Anthony Winchester, who had 11 points and six rebounds, said the team will bounce back just as it did after starting 0-5.
“We lost two in a row because we went back to the way we were playing at the beginning of the season,” Winchester said. “If we can get these next two games under our belt we’ll be back on track. We still have a long season ahead of us.”
Western was 12-21 from the free-throw line while South Alabama went 16-19. Jaguar Chris Young led all scorers with 22.
After playing four of their previous five games on the road, Western will host Arkansas Little-Rock Thursday at 7 p.m. in its conference home-opener.
Reach Jay Lively at [email protected]