Southern coach Roman Banks believes his team can keep rolling

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Southern guard Malcolm Miller drives through Blue Mountain College forward Josh Sheppard during a Nov. 25 game in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Southern guard Malcolm Miller drives through Blue Mountain College forward Josh Sheppard during a Nov. 25 game in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

The Southern men’s basketball team has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season championship with two games remaining.

The Jaguars know that in order to add a SWAC Tournament title to their trophy case, they need to continue to hone the edge they’ve had down the stretch. They play Prairie View (8-20, 6-10) at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday, then host Texas Southern on Saturday before heading to Houston next week for the conference tourney.

“As a basketball team,” Southern coach Roman Banks said, “any time you step on the court, you want to win every game no matter what.”

The Jaguars (18-11, 16-2) have won nine of their last 10 games, including their last four. Those last four victories have come by an average margin of more than 13 points. They won at Alcorn State 67-54 last Saturday and at Alabama State 87-64 five days before that.

“I think this team still has some growth in it,” Banks said. “I’ve said all along that with injuries and mixing people in and out and changing the lineup, we finally settled on a consistent lineup and a consistent rotation.

“The last few weeks you’ve seen different people step up a lot. I think this team has that type of ability.”

During the four-game winning streak, Malcolm Miller has averaged 20.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Calvin Godfrey has averaged a double-double — 12.3 points and 11.0 rebounds.

Yondarius Johnson led the team in scoring with 22 points against Alabama A&M on Feb. 22, and Tre Lynch has scored in double figures twice off the bench, getting 14 points against Alabama State and 10 against Alcorn State.

When Damien Goodwin was sidelined by a concussion in the first half against Mississippi Valley State on Feb. 17, Bryce Clark took on a bigger role and had nine points and four rebounds. He had six points and four rebounds against A&M before joining Goodwin on the sideline while an uncertainty in his academic record was clarified.

Frank Snow took on a bigger role and had six points and five rebounds against ASU and four points and eight rebounds against Alcorn. Now Goodwin and Clark are back as Southern tries to finish strong.

The Jaguars opened SWAC play by beating the Panthers 60-57 on the road Jan. 4 as Miller and Godfrey each scored 16 points. But Southern is playing much better now than it was at the start of the year.

“We know we have to play hard every day like we practice,” Godfrey said. “We have to fight through to the end of the season.”

If the Jaguars keep playing as they have, they have a good chance of matching the 2006 Southern by winning the regular-season and tournament titles.

“We’ve made a big turnaround just since I’ve been here,” said Miller, who’s in his third season. “We’ve restored Southern pride.”

This team’s pride has been tested as it has played nearly all season under the cloud of an NCAA postseason ban, which became definite for this season one week ago.

“They understand that life is bigger than a basketball game,” Banks said, “but they also understand that while you’re playing the game you should enjoy it and make the best of it. That makes you proud as a coach.”