February 3, 2010 2:44:00 PM
In December, the University of South Alabama men''s basketball team achieved one of its most notable wins in school history.
The Jaguars claimed a thrilling victory when they edged then No. 18 Florida 67-66 on Dec. 22, 2009 -- doing it at the O''Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., nonetheless.
Grabbing the spotlight was redshirt freshman DeAndre Hersey, who scored on a putback with 1.8 seconds remaining for the winning basket.
The shot made ESPN''s highlight reel and is the most memorable college moment thus far for Hersey, who is a 2008 graduate of Pickens County High School in Reform, Ala.
"It was a good experience for me and my team," Hersey said. "For me to be seen on SportsCenter felt real good. I was just real happy when I tipped it in. We needed that win before Christmas and it was a good Christmas present for us. Everybody from Reform called me and congratulated me. They saw me on SportsCenter."
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Hersey was inserted late into the game for defensive purposes and he ended up being the offensive hero.
South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow allowed Hersey to remain on the floor when the Jaguars got the ball with a chance to win the game and the decision paid dividends.
"The play was intended for our best player, Tim Williams, to come off my screen and go to the hole and try to make a play," Hersey said. "It came off the backboard and I was there and tipped it in.
"I think it showed Coach that I got in there and got the rebound in a big minute and got the game-winning shot."
Hersey finished the game with seven points and five rebounds, helping him earn more playing time as the season has progressed.
He has seen his minutes increase since that game and he''s currently averaging 10 minutes a game.
Hersey has even started two games, most recently against Florida Atlantic on Jan. 28.
"I''m starting to play more," Hersey said. "The other night was my second start. It feels real good. I think the coach feels good about letting me start now so it feels real good."
Hersey has played in 22 of South Alabama''s 23 games and for the season he''s averaging 2.1 points and 2.0 rebounds. He''s used his lanky range to block eight shots and he has four steals.
He recorded season highs of 10 points and six rebounds against Louisana-Monroe on Jan. 14.
Arrow says Hersey has a chance to be a contributing player in the Sun Belt Conference, but he still has things to learn.
"He''s gotten a lot stronger since he''s been here," Arrow said. "He hasn''t put on a whole lot of weight, but he has gained strength. I think the biggest thing with DeAndre is learning how to compete at this level. He''s a very good athlete. I think he''s learning, like a lot of kids nowadays, how hard it is to play on this level.
"I think his whole game will be escalated immensely once he figures out how physical it is to play at this level. I think he''s done some good things and learned some things. He doesn''t have a lot of weight so he''s got to learn how to use his quickness and be able to do the things he has to do at this level to be able to compete and play hard all the time."
South Alabama has lost four games in a row and seven of eight to drop to 12-11 going into a game at New Orleans on Thursday and Hersey wants to help the team get back on track.
The Jaguars won 11 of their first 15 games and Hersey hopes they start playing like that again to make a push for the NCAA Tournament.