Southern men’s basketball coach Roman Banks said not to let Texas Southern’s record fool you.
The visiting Tigers needed only a few minutes to prove him right.
Building a lead that hovered in the eight- to 12-point range throughout the first half, Texas Southern looked much better than the 1-12 mark it carried into Southwestern Athletic Conference play. In fact, the Tigers barely trailed for 30 minutes.
But Southern kept giving chase, finally catching up in a 63-57 victory.
“I always thought they were one of the top teams in the league with all the experience they have and all the capable players they have,” Banks said. “They’re going to be a very dangerous ballclub. Starting off with that type of team tonight and being able to finish the way we did, I think we showed a lot of character.”
Malcolm Miller had 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes off the bench.
Southern led 2-0 on a Javan Mitchell basket in the opening minute, but never again until Mitchell turned and hit a one-handed jumper for a 48-47 edge at the 9:37 mark of the second half.
Texas Southern led by as much as 34-21 with 4:22 left in the first half.
None of that was a huge surprise to Southern’s coach — or anyone else who looked beyond TSU’s early win-loss mark.
The Tigers played a nonconference schedule filled with March Madness regulars, but were able to hang tough in some of those games. Most notably, TSU fell to then-No. 19 Colorado in overtime and lost to San Diego State by single digits.
Wednesday marked the SWAC debut for first-year coach Mike Davis, best known for coaching Indiana to the national championship game in 2002.
“I knew they’d come out with a lot of energy,” Banks said. “They shoot the ball and play all over the court.”
Opening what it hopes will be a memorable SWAC season, Southern (7-6) had its hands full only two games after beating Texas A&M and finishing its nonconference slate with a .500 record.
TSU went ahead 5-2 on a 3-pointer by Omar Strong and was off and running.
The lead was still 33-24 with just over a minute to play in the first half, but Malcolm Miller got hot just before intermission, hitting a 3-pointer to close the first half and then knocking down a long-range 2-pointer on the opening possession of the second.
At that point, TSU’s lead was down to two.
But it wasn’t until Mitchell hit inside that Southern was able to catch completely up, setting the stage for an exciting finish that featured five lead changes in the final 10 minutes.
Miller’s hook shot with 1:43 left gave Southern its first two-possession lead. A pair of free throws by Derick Beltran provided the final margin.
“The key was that we had to match their energy,” Banks said. “I knew (TSU) would come out with a lot of energy. We had to relax and just play our game.”
Raymond Penn had 18 points to lead the Tigers, and Strong added 16.
TSU went 4-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half, but was only 1-of-12 from outside in the second half.
Southern faces Prairie View at home Friday, the second of four games for the Jaguars in a seven-day stretch.