Southern men look to continue home success vs. Ala. State

Advocate staff photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Southern's Malcolm Miller drives around Jackson State's Kelsey Howard at the FG Clark Activity center on Feb. 4, 2013, in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Southern's Malcolm Miller drives around Jackson State's Kelsey Howard at the FG Clark Activity center on Feb. 4, 2013, in Baton Rouge.

The Southern men’s basketball team suffered a three-point loss at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then survived a 67-foul marathon at Mississippi Valley State to win by four.

Now the Jaguars return to the F.G. Clark Activity Center and prepare for three straight games on its home court.

The key stretch begins Saturday against Alabama State as Southern looks to keep pace in a suddenly crowded Southwestern Athletic Conference race

A perfect 6-0 at home in SWAC play, Southern (17-8, 11-2) has won its past four home games by 20 points or more.

“Walking into a building where people are cheering for you, I think it helps our guys quite a bit,” coach Roman Banks said. “It’s been a while since there was this kind of environment here.”

With another home win, the Jaguars can complete a sweep of Alabama State (8-17, 6-6) in the season series. Southern has been a much better team at the Mini Dome than on the road, where the Jaguars lost two in a row against Alcorn State and UAPB before pulling out the Valley win.

Banks believes his team has struggled away from home because it has few players who entered the season with SWAC experience. But the Jaguars found a way Monday night after coughing up a 16-point lead in the second half.

The number of fouls resulted in a game with little flow.

“The way we won may have actually been good for our psyche,” Banks said. “To have a good season, you’re going to have a couple of those games. You need the ball to bounce your way.”

Southern may need more of that down the stretch to hold off UAPB (12-13, 11-2) and Texas Southern (12-14, 10-2) in the SWAC race. UAPB travels to Texas Southern on Saturday in a matchup of the league’s hottest teams; they’ve combined for 10 straight wins.

Southern split the season series with UAPB. It beat Texas Southern in the SWAC opener and will see the Tigers in Houston during the final week of the regular season.

But neither the Golden Lions nor the Tigers will be allowed to compete in the SWAC tournament as a penalty for having low Academic Progress Rating scores.

“The fact we’re challenging for first place, just the excitement it brings means a lot,” Banks said. “We’ve got five games left to see what we can do.”

Malcolm Miller, twice the SWAC Player of the Week last month, has struggled in recent games. But Derick Beltran has averaged 24 points in the past three.

The duo combined for 35 points in a 79-67 victory Jan. 19 at Alabama State, the seventh game of the Jaguars’ 8-0 start in SWAC play.