First, the Southern men’s basketball team had to endure five games in eight days — all on the road — to open the season. Then, the Jaguars stretched their next three games over a span of 18 days.
With the fall semester completed and no other major breaks on the horizon, Southern can finally get into the swing of a consistent schedule when it travels to Monroe on Thursday night to face Louisiana-Monroe for its second game four days, and the start of a more steady routine for the rest of the season.
“I’m excited,” Southern coach Roman Banks said of the upcoming schedule. “I think we needed the break after playing all those games. Then finals came up and we needed a break to study as well, and now I think it’s time for us to start playing some games in a row to get our legs under us and see how we respond every night.”
ULM (1-4) is coming off its first victory of the season, a 68-61 overtime win against Southeastern Louisiana at home on Monday, after losing its first four games of the year.
The Jaguars (3-5) are coming off back-to-back wins in their first two home games of the year, the most recent being a 77-50 win against William Carey on Monday.
The win came after a nine-day hiatus for finals week, which put a limitation on practice time and participation. Southern still came out swinging, shooting 43 percent in Monday’s game, including nearly 38 percent from 3-point range.
Much of the contributions came from senior guard Derick Beltran, who dropped a game-high 23 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the field while sinking five 3-pointers.
Beltran said the back-to-back wins have given the Jaguars momentum going forward, and the team chemistry is slowly beginning to build.
“It was tough in the beginning because we had a lot of new players in new positions,” Beltran said. “We’ve just got to get better. As a team, I think we’re coming along pretty well.”
While the offensive production has been there the past two games, Banks has continued to put more emphasis on the defense. Banks said he was pleased with the team’s defensive effort in Monday’s win, but said the Jaguars still have more work ahead of them.
He called this upcoming three-game road trip ahead of him — Louisiana0-Monroe, followed by two trips to Texas to take on TCU and Texas A&M — a pivotal gauge in the team’s progress.
“I still think we need to be battle-tested to really see where we are,” Banks said. “Going on the road Thursday, I think we get a huge test to see how consistent we can be on the defensive end.”
Beltran said he’s seen steady improvement on both ends of the floor since the start of the season more than a month ago, and he’s confident the team is close to gelling.
“I think by the time the SWAC comes we’re going to be where we need to be and where we know we can be,” Beltran said, “which is one of the top teams in Division I basketball.”