PINE BLUFF, Ark. — For the first time in a long time, the Southern men’s basketball team has company atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference standings.
Surging Arkansas-Pine Bluff got the best of the Jaguars in a 55-52 victory Saturday night at H.O. Clemmons Arena, scoring its seventh win in eight games while handing SU its second loss in four.
The win bumped the Golden Lions (11-13, 10-2) into a tie with Southern (16-8, 10-2) for the SWAC’s top spot.
After winning its first four SWAC away games by double figures, Southern, which started league action 8-0 after upsetting Texas A&M late in nonconference play, has now lost two in a row on the road.
“We were a timid ball club, looking around and not attacking,” SU coach Roman Banks said. “They’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
As in the 61-57 loss at Alcorn State late last month, when LeAntwan Luckett ripped off 27 points, Southern ran into an opposing shooter with a hot hand. This time, it was UAPB senior Lazabian Jackson, whose game-high 20 points included six 3-pointers. It marked Jackson’s third straight 20-point effort.
“He’s playing with a chip on his shoulder,” Banks said of Jackson, who also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. “He wants to prove he’s the best two guard in the league.”
One reason Southern finished with its lowest point total since early January was junior Malcolm Miller’s inability to get going.
Miller failed to reach double figures for the first time in SWAC play with three points on 1-of-9 shooting, experiencing struggles similar to those in a 10-point effort against Alcorn
Derick Beltran, coming off a career-high 35-point night against Jackson State, had 18 points to lead Southern.
But after whipping UAPB 84-50 in their first meeting, Southern spent the final 13:54 of the rematch without a lead.
Tevin Hammond had nine assists for UAPB to go with his nine points. Daniel Broughton finished with 16 points.
“I think we answered a lot of questions tonight,” Broughton said. “I think we showed we’re one of the better teams in the league.”
But it wasn’t easy.
Down by as many as 10 with 12:30 left, Southern was breathing down UAPB’s neck in the final minutes. Beltran hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to make it 49-47 with 3:24 left. Jameel Grace brought it to 52-52 when he knocked down both ends of a one-and-one with 1:25 left.
Meanwhile, the Southern defense held Jackson without a point for the final nine minutes.
The Lions reclaimed the lead when Marcel Mosley made a tough baseline runner with 56 seconds showing and then, with 19 seconds left, hit the first of two free throws. But he missed the second foul shot, leaving the door cracked for an SU win.
Grace got two looks from 3-point range in the final eight seconds but missed the mark both times.
“To come back and play close, that looked good on the scoreboard,” Banks said. “But that’s not the way we want to live.”