The questions about his team’s 10th conference win had passed Monday night when the subject turned to the next order of business.
Seated in his office on the bottom floor of the F.G. Clark Activity Center, Southern coach Roman Banks let out a sigh when the name Arkansas-Pine Bluff entered the conversation.
“This road trip,” he said, “we’ll see what we’re made of.”
Southern showed plenty of mettle in Monday’s 78-58 dismantling of Jackson State, bringing the Jaguars to 12 wins over their last 13 games and eight victories in Southwestern Athletic Conference action by double digits.
But it’s little wonder Arkansas-Pine Bluff has Banks’ attention.
The Golden Lions (10-13, 9-2) enter Saturday night’s home game against Southern (16-7, 10-1) only one game back in the SWAC standings and having won six of their last seven.
They are ineligible for postseason play because of Academic Progress Rating-induced penalties, so the only banner within their reach is one that celebrates a regular-season conference championship. That little fact, Banks said, makes UAPB all the more dangerous.
“I know their gym will be packed,” Banks said. “I know they’ll be waiting for us when we come through the door.”
Southern went 4-1 away from home in the first half of its SWAC schedule, but the Jaguars hit the road for the first time since suffering their only conference loss at Alcorn State two weeks ago.
Behind a trapping zone defense Banks compared to Syracuse’s, UAPB leads the league in steals with 10.1 per game and also ranks first in turnover margin.
Individually, Lazabian Jackson (2.6 steals per game) and Tevin Hammond (2.3) rank first and second in the SWAC in forcing turnovers.
“When they get steals and they’re running up and down the court, they’re one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch,” Banks said. “The key is being able to be consistent on the offensive end where we’re not throwing up bad shots and we’re not turning the ball over.”
In addition to its pursuit of Southern in the conference standings, UAPB will look to avenge a one-sided, 84-50 loss at Southern early in the SWAC season.
The Jaguars put on a show for their home crowd in the first meeting, throwing down four dunks, knocking home 11 3-pointers and leading by double figures from 15-5 on.
But the Lions have handled their business since then, beating the likes of Texas Southern and Prairie View at home and losing only at Jackson State.
Southern will look to stop the good times for UAPB behind the backcourt tandem of Malcolm Miller and Derek Beltran.
Miller is the likely front-runner for SWAC Player of the Year honors and had 21 points against Pine Bluff in the first meeting.
Beltran, who scored 22 versus the Lions last time, is coming off a career-high 35-point effort against Jackson State.
But Banks said the key for Southern moving forward is to become productive enough on the inside to create more offensive balance.
That starts with center Javan Mitchell.
“He’s been working hard this week,” Banks said, “because he knows it’s going to be important to score the ball around the basket.”
Southern remains on the road Monday as the Jaguars travel to face Mississippi Valley State.
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