AMES, Iowa — In his first year on the job at Southern, coach Roman Banks won 13 more games than the previous year with a lineup that lacked much depth, especially up front.
Banks was quietly hoping that this year might be different, that the experience of his five returning players from last year would help make up for it.
But after Friday’s season-opening 82-59 loss to Iowa State, he quickly realized his team will have to overcome the same issues in year No. 2 if the program is to make a similar leap.
For 20 minutes, the Jaguars outplayed the bigger, deeper Cyclones, but the lack of depth caught up to Southern, which eventually run out of gas down the stretch.
“We could have played a little smarter and a little better,” Banks said. “I don’t know if we could have won the ballgame because, at the end of the day, they just outmanned us.”
With 6-foot-9 forward Brandon Moore sitting out while the NCCA determines his eligibility, and with forward Javan Mitchell in foul trouble throughout the night Friday, the Jaguars had no chance but to play long stretches with a mostly small lineup.
That meant Banks was substituting some of his 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 players in at the power forward position against ISU team with 10 players taller than that on its roster.
As a result, the Cyclones dominated the rebounding battle 59-33 and outscored the Jaguars 44-18 in the post. ISU’s 21 offensive rebounds led to 27 second-chance points.
“We had a distinct size advantage,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We finally figured that out, that we could throw it inside.”
ISU entered the game 18-0 all-time versus teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but in the first half, Southern looked more than capable of ending the streak.
The Jaguars forced three early turnovers, and raced out to a 9-2 lead after three minutes.
Moments later, a pull-up jumper by Jameel Grace and a 3-pointer by Derick Beltran pushed Southern’s lead to 16-6. Beltran was the catalyst early on, scoring 18 first-half points.
Banks is counting on Beltran, the senior who averaged a team-best 13.2 points per game last year, to help fill the void left by first-team All-SWAC forward Quinton Doggett.
“I expect that from Derick,” Banks said. “He’s the leading scorer from last year, and as a transfer into our system, he’s the lead guy out on the perimeter.”
Beltran finished with a game-high 26 points.
Cyclones guard Tyrus McGee followed Beltran’s 3-pointer with one of his own, and it seemed to wake up the Cyclones, who went on a 13-2 run to take their first lead.
The Jaguars went on one more run before halftime, but ISU forward Georges Niang hit a 3-pointer just before halftime to give the Cyclones a 41-39 lead at the break.
When the teams came back to the court for the second half, the Jaguars had nothing left.
After shooting 12 of 32 for the first 20 minutes, and knocking down four 3-pointers, Southern shot 8 of 34 in the second half, including 1 of 11 from 3-point range.
“We were taking quick shots, not boxing out and stuff like that,” Beltran said. “It was simple stuff we were doing in the first half, and little things like that hurt us in the second half.”
Malcolm Miller was the only other Southern player in double figures with 10 points.
Percy Gibson led ISU 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Though Banks would’ve liked to start the season off with a win, he ultimately liked what he saw from his team in its first test of the season.
“I thought for the first outing, in front of a crowd of about 10,000 to 12,000, it was what we were looking for, because we want to win every ballgame,” Banks said. “But we learned something, and I think this team can get better.”