LORMAN, Miss. — The Southern men’s basketball team learned Saturday that it will be able to compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
Then the Jaguars left little doubt that they will be the team to beat when tournament play starts March 11 in Houston.
Southern clinched the regular-season title outright when it defeated Alcorn State 67-54 in the Davey Whitney Complex. The Jaguars (18-11 and 14-2) can’t be caught even with two league games remaining at home against Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The Braves are 11-17 and 8-8.
The regular-season title and berth in the conference tournament took some of the sting out of an NCAA postseason ban due to inadequate reporting of date relating to student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates. Southern learned Thursday that the ban will not be lifted in time for this year’s NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in the SWAC Tournament.
“After all these guys have been through the last 48 hours and the ups and downs of this whole year, this speaks volumes of their character and their brotherhood,” Jaguars coach Roman Banks said. “I’m very emotional right now, and it’s very hard to find the words.”
Malcolm Miller led Southern with 18 points and Calvin Godfrey and Tre Lynch had 10 each. LeAntwan Luckett led the Braves with 19 points and Marquis Vance had 10.
Reserve forward Damein Goodwin returned from a two-game absence because of a concussion.
The Jaguars fell behind by nine points early on, put on a blitz midway through the first half and methodically pulled away in the second.
They led by 10 points at halftime and never allowed the lead to shrink. Godfrey made two layups and a dunk as Southern took a 42-28 lead.
Alcorn got the lead down to 10 again as Vance made four free throws.
Miller’s 3-pointer started an 11-1 run that gave the Jaguars a 53-33 lead with eight minutes left before Devontae Hampton made a layup for Alcorn’s first field goal in 10 minutes.
“We knew what was at stake,” Miller said. “We didn’t want to let them hang around us and mess up our championship. We had to stay focused and we didn’t let up.”
The victory was the Jaguars’ first at Alcorn in four years.
Southern began the game as though it still had a hangover from learning its NCAA postseason ban would not be lifted. It fell behind 15-6, but quickly regrouped.
Lynch made two free throws and 3-pointer to jump-start the Jaguars. Then Miller converted a three-point play and made consecutive 3-pointers to complete a 14-0 run that gave Southern a 20-15 lead.
“They jumped on us in the beginning,” Godfrey said. “We knew we would have to take their punch in the beginning. We just had to roll with it and try and deliver ours right back.”
Luckett score four straight points, but Frank Snow scored four straight points as the Jaguars increased their lead to 30-21.
Bryce Clark’s tip-in and Javan Mitchell’s baseline jumper sent Southern into halftime with a 34-24 edge and they coasted from there.
Banks recalled the Jaguars’ 64-58 loss at home to Arkansas-Pine Bluff two weeks earlier in which he felt the announcement of the NCAA ban two days earlier had inhibited his team’s performance.
“We handled this much better than the Pine Bluff game,” Banks said. “We had a lot of conversations. We didn’t want to speak negatively about anything. As a basketball player, any time you take the court you want to win very badly.
“But we also talked about representing our university, our students, our alumni. I think we showed what kind of character this basketball team has.”