Southern men aim to complete 1st-half sweep

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Southern's Brandon Moore scores against UAPB in Southern's F.G. Clark Activity Center on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Southern's Brandon Moore scores against UAPB in Southern's F.G. Clark Activity Center on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.

The Southern men’s basketball team remains far from finishing Southwestern Athletic Conference play with an unblemished record.

But the Jaguars, who own a win against eight of the league’s other nine teams, can complete a sweep of the conference schedule’s first half at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Alcorn State.

Coach Roman Banks said he knows it won’t get any easier.

“I’m starting to see teams getting a chance to make adjustments,” he said. “They know who we are and how we play. I would imagine there’s going to be more of that going into the second half of play.”

Southern (14-6, 8-0) rolls into Alcorn riding a 10-game winning streak. Its past six wins have been by double digits.

The Jaguars own just a 11/2-game lead over second-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but Southern has won its eight league games by an average of 19.6 points and leads the conference in most statistical categories.

Once it closes the first half of the SWAC schedule, a memorable start to the second half awaits.

Next Saturday, when the Jaguars face rival Grambling in the F.G. Clark Activity Center, former Southern great Avery Johnson will be on hand. The school will honor Johnson by celebrating the renaming of the court after him and by hanging his number 13 from the rafters.

Alumni Night also will be celebrated.

But Banks said the Jaguars — no matter their early dominance — can’t afford to look past an Alcorn team that split with Southern last year.

“They have a very capable basketball team,” he said. “They’re a very good defensive team. They really get in you and put a lot of pressure on you on their home court.”

Alcorn (7-16, 5-3) allows 64.1 points per game, ranking second in the league behind Southern (58.1).

“They do a good job of making people beat you that may not be accustomed to beating you,” Banks said. “They put guys who aren’t usually scorers in position where they have to score.”

Southern guards Derek Beltran and Malcolm Miller have been the league’s best one-two punch on the perimeter. If the Braves focus on stopping those two, the Jaguars’ interior players may have to take on a larger role.

Javan Mitchell averages 10 points and 4.6 rebounds. Brandon Moore, the other inside starter, averages 5.6 points and 7.7 boards.

Senior point guard Jameel Grace, sidelined much of the month with a sprained shoulder, has received more playing time recently, but Banks said he wants to bring him back slowly.

“I think he’s getting back into basketball shape and up to speed,” Banks said. “I want to make sure that the pain is gone after games. I don’t want to put him in a bad situation and he gets hurt again.”

With Grace on the mend, freshman Christopher Hyder has started seven straight games at point guard. In that stretch, he’s averaging 4.0 points and 3.9 assists.