Southern men hold off Alabama A&M

Off the Southern men’s basketball team went, opening the second half by knocking down eight of its first nine shots from the field.

The lead grew to 17 points. Then to 18.

But just when the 1,576 fans at the F.G. Clark Activity Center had to think a blowout was coming, Alabama A&M star Demarquelle Tabb and the Bulldogs started charging. Instead of a cakewalk, Southern settled for an 81-67 win.

“That’s what they do,” Southern coach Roman Banks said of A&M. “They never stop playing. Before you know it, they hit some 3s, and it’s starting to look like a tight game.”

The Jaguars (19-8, 13-2), who entered the night one-half game ahead of Texas Southern for first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference standings, need only a victory Saturday against Alcorn State to finish the season unbeaten at home.

All the usual weapons were firing for Southern.

Derick Beltran scored eight of Southern’s first 12 points and never cooled off, finishing with 21 points to rebound from a shaky outing against Alabama State on Saturday. He went 6-of-11 from the field and 7-of-12 from downtown.

Malcolm Miller was 4-of-8 from 3-point range — and 7-of-12 overall — to finish with points.

Javan Mitchell was a force on the inside, scoring 13 points and connecting on four of his six attempts.

All that was enough to offset Tabb, who went for game highs of 22 points and seven rebounds.

“In the second half, he kind of did what he did to us at their place,” said Banks, whose Jaguars won 82-68 in Alabama last month. “He kind of took over.”

It looked for a while like it wouldn’t matter.

With a little more than 16 minutes to play, Southern point guard Jameel Grace took the ball from Jeremy Crutcher and raced for a layup on the other end, building the lead to 41-25. Less than two minutes later, Miller scored inside to make it 52-34.

Through the first six minutes of the second half, as the lead grew to 18 points, Southern missed only once from the field.

But then Alabama A&M (9-16, 5-9) got within 11. Then, after Southern answered, it was back to 11 again.

Tabb scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half to keep A&M within a game-changing run of threatening Southern’s perfect home mark.

The Bulldogs got as close as 70-60 on the last of Tabb’s baskets, but Southern answered with a 7-1 run. The clincher came when Miller drained a 3-pointer from the left corner for a 77-61 edge with 2:07 left.