Lorman, Miss. — The Southern men’s basketball team rolled into the Davey L. Whitney Complex having crushed much of the Southwestern Athletic Conference competition in its way. The Jaguars were perfect in eight conference games, with six straight wins by double digits.
Alcorn State wasn’t fazed. The Braves jumped to an early seven-point lead, then spent most of Saturday night doing just enough to keep Southern at arm’s length. The result was a 61-57 upset that ended any notion of the Jaguars running the table during their 18-game SWAC schedule.
“We pay attention to the standings and the hoopla and all that,” said Alcorn coach Luther Riley, whose team improved to 8-16 overall and 6-3 in the SWAC. “But the game had to be played on the floor.”
Southern (14-7, 8-1) had not only won most of its first eight SWAC games in convincing fashion but also had upset Texas A&M late in nonconference action to start a 10-game winning streak.
The Jaguars entered Saturday as the league leader in a number of statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring defense and scoring margin.
But they weren’t themselves as they closed the first half of the SWAC schedule.
Malcolm Miller entered as the league’s scoring leader at 17.1 points per game, including 21.8 during SWAC play. He had his roughest outing of the conference season, managing only 10 points while shooting 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
Southern entered as the SWAC’s top free-throw shooting team at 77.2 percent. The Jaguars hit only 19 of 35 in their first conference loss.
Alcorn guard LeAntwan Luckett — a Rivals.com four-star recruit coming out of Ridgeland (Miss.) High two years ago — threw up shots that appeared drawn to the bucket by a magnet. He went for a game-high 27 points, sinking four of six 3s along the way.
“I figured the game would go to the wire,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “We just didn’t make the plays at the end.”
Even after Southern responded from an early 8-1 hole with an 11-2 run, it was clear Alcorn had every intention of putting a dent in Southern’s fastest start to SWAC play in 23 years.
One possession after Southern took a 12-10 lead on two Derick Beltran free throws, Devonte Hampton made a 3 that gave Alcorn a 13-12 advantage, and Southern never led again.
The Jaguars, who trailed 31-23 at halftime, got within 38-37 when Brandon Moore split a pair of free throws with 14:27 to play. Luckett responded with a layup, continuing a second-half surge by the sophomore in which he poured in 19 points.
But the Braves never had the game in hand, and Southern trailed only 59-55 when Javan Mitchell scored inside with 45 seconds left. With just under 30 seconds left and Alcorn up four, senior point guard Jameel Grace threw a kick-out pass toward Miller that sailed out of bounds for Southern’s seventh turnover. The score was the same when, with about 10 seconds remaining, Anthony Nieves registered a steal in the Southern backcourt and was immediately fouled.
Two free throws by Nieves gave Alcorn a 61-55 lead, putting away an opponent that had won its first eight SWAC games by an average of 19.6 points.
“It’s not a pleasant feeling in there,” Banks said outside the locker room. “They feel like they let a lot of people down. But you can only control your next game. We’re still going to work hard. We’re going to do everything we can to win every ballgame we play. That may not happen, but the key is to work hard and try to win every ballgame you play.”