Southern men clinch tie for first

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southern men’s basketball team doesn’t know whether it will be allowed to compete for the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament championship next month.

But the Jaguars know they have at least a share of the league’s regular-season championship, no ifs ands or buts.

That came courtesy of a dominant performance against their closest competitor.

Southern blasted second-place Alabama State 87-64 on Monday night in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome to improve to 17-11 and 13-2 in the SWAC, 3½ games ahead of the Hornets (15-10, 9-5).

The Jaguars, who play at Alcorn State on Saturday, beat Alabama State for the second time, having prevailed 68-55 Jan. 27 in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

“This team has reached one of its goals,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “We’re very appreciative to be champs. Any time you win a championship, you’re appreciative of the opportunity.”

A loud cheer in the postgame locker room could be heard in the hallway.

Southern’s postseason fate rests with the NCAA, which has banned it from postseason play because the university filed inadequate reports on students athletes’ academic progress. The university has filed subsequent data for the NCAA to consider and awaits a ruling.

The Jaguars were reminded of their predicament when they decided to hold reserve forward Bryce Clark out of Monday’s game as a precaution while his academic paperwork is completed for the NCAA.

Malcolm Miller led Southern with 23 points, Tre Lynch scored 14, and Trelun Banks had 12. Brandon Graham led Alabama State with 14 points, Terrance LeFlore had 12, and DeMarcus Robinson scored 10.

“Since the beginning of the season, we’ve had a lot of adversity,” Miller said. “But we stayed strong, and we kept fighting.”

The Jaguars shot 59.6 percent from the floor (34-for-57), including 47.4 percent on 3-pointers (9-for-19). The Hornets shots just 36.8 percent (21-for-57), including 22.2 percent on 3-pointers (4-for-18).

“We knew if we limited their second-chance points, our offense would make the difference,” Miller said.

Southern led 46-27 at halftime and didn’t give Alabama State any time to entertain thoughts of a comeback in the second half.

Godfrey made a layup, Javan Mitchell dunked and Miller swished a 3-pointer to push the lead to 26 before the Hornets scored.

Robinson gave Alabama State a brief lift, making a layup, a 3-pointer and a free throw. But the Hornets couldn’t slow down the Jaguars.

Yondarius Johnson drove for a layup, Banks scored from the lane, and Miller scored on a dunk. That gave Southern a 65-37 lead as a significant portion of the crowd took it as a cue to leave even though 12 minutes remained.

They knew what they were doing as the Jaguars never let up on the gas pedal.

“We knew this was a first-place game,” Lynch said. “We wanted to come out with a lot of energy and play hard from the beginning. We never let up and played that way for 40 minutes.”

Alabama State has four games left, and Southern has three. One Hornets defeat or one Jaguars victory will give Southern an outright championship.

“This team has been through a lot, and now it has a chance to exhale for 24 hours,” coach Banks said. “Then it’s back to work. We want a sole championship, and we don’t want to limp to the finish either.”

Frank Snow, who played a bigger role because of the absence of Clark and Damien Goodwin, who has a concussion, scored six early points, including a basket that gave Southern the lead for good at 12-10.

Five Jaguars made baskets as the lead grew to 23-14 before Robinson made a layup for Alabama State.

Miller scored seven straight to push the lead to 30-19 before Graham made a layup for the Hornets.

Banks had five points during a 16-6 finishing kick that gave Southern a 46-27 halftime advantage.

The second half was little more than a victory lap for the Jaguars.