Southern men get back to work

The smoke from Saturday night’s fireworks has cleared. Avery Johnson has been honored, and Southern completed a season sweep of Grambling.

Now the Jaguars come off a one-day break to face one of the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s hottest teams when Jackson State invades the F.G. Clark Activity Center on Monday night.

To maintain its one-game lead atop the league standings, Southern coach Roman Banks said his team can’t dwell on the past.

“I think this team is going to test us,” Banks said. “That’s a talented group of guys. I think we’re going to be tested. I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond.”

Saturday was a memorable time for Banks, his players and anyone who showed up at the Mini Dome to take part in the festivities. In officially dedicating its home court in Johnson’s honor and hanging his retired No. 15 from the rafters, Southern honored one of the most recognizable alumni ever to walk its halls. A crowd of 4,800 turned out, easily the best of the season.

On the floor, Southern (15-7, 9-1) was a bit slow to get going but eventually took control and roared to its seventh double-digit win in conference play.

“Today is the reason I took this job,” said Banks, in his second season as Southern coach, “to see that kind of crowd and that kind of joy.”

But now comes a Jackson State team that hardly resembles the one Southern handled 80-67 on the road last month. After starting SWAC play 0-6, the Tigers (5-14, 4-6) have worked themselves back into the middle of the league standings.

They took an 84-71 win at rival Alcorn on Saturday night, the same gym where Southern suffered its only SWAC loss. The backcourt tandem of junior Dundrecous Nelson and sophomore Kelsey Howard combines to average 30.7 points.

On the Southern side, senior Derek Beltran and junior Malcolm Miller continue to lead the way. Banks also likes what he sees from 6-foot-4 reserve YonDarius Johnson, who Saturday provided nine points and three rebounds in 16 minutes.

“He can take a bump and finish, and he’s a big guard I can put out there to guard anybody on the court,” Banks said. “I think he’s starting to learn his role.”

After facing Jackson to close a two-game homestand, Southern travels Saturday to Arkansas-Pine Bluff before visiting Mississippi Valley State two days later.

Pine Bluff shares second place in the SWAC with Texas Southern.