Southern stays close with Marquette but drops season opener

MILWAUKEE — The recipe for the Southern men’s basketball team had all the ingredients for a road-game disaster against a ranked opponent.

Despite that, the Jaguars gave No. 17 Marquette all it could handle before falling 63-56 on Friday night against a team picked to finish first in the Big East in the preseason coaches poll.

The Jaguars held Marquette to just three field goals in the second half and stayed within striking distance before a disastrous cold stretch.

The Golden Eagles, who extended their home winning streak to 26 games — the second-longest active streak in the nation — went to the free-throw line a school record 53 times, making 33. In contrast, the Jaguars attempted 16 free throws, making six.

“I saw a lot of good things, and I saw the bad that we can correct,” said Southern coach Roman Banks, whose team outrebounded Marquette 38-35. “We made the mistake and let them go to the line 50-some times. But we held them to a certain number of field goals. I think that’s a potential statement for a coach to build off of.”

Marquette led 38-32 at halftime and extended its lead to 46-34 on a free throw by Davante Gardner, but the Jaguars responded with a 9-1 run, pulling within 47-43 on a steal and layup by Tre Lynch with 9:54 left.

But the Golden Eagles worked the lead to 58-44 as the Jaguars went more than eight minutes without a field goal before a Yondarius Jackson 3-pointer with just 1:49 left.

Despite the cold shooting, the Jaguars trailed just 60-54 after a free throw by Johnson with 22.9 seconds to go.

“I definitely can’t complain about our team on the defensive end,” Banks said. “I think they played defense so well (that) they gave themselves a chance to win.”

Marquette coach Buzz Williams was impressed with the Jaguars as both teams wrestled with the new NCAA rule that prohibits a defensive player from putting his hand on an opponent with the ball.

“I think Southern is really good,” Williams said. “I’ve said that throughout the week. I have great respect for Coach Banks. I think he’s doing an outstanding job. I think when you play on a neutral floor as a 16 seed against Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed, and you lose by six and you have several opportunities down the stretch to win it, they’re not going to come to the Bradley Center and play Marquette and think any other way other than this is another chance for us to prove we’re a really good team.”

Malcolm Miller led the Jaguars with 14 points, all in the first half, but started cramping up in the second half, Banks said.

“He’s our go-to guy,” Banks said. “We tried to put him back in, but he couldn’t go.”

The Jaguars were bolstered by the return of center Javan Mitchell, who was cleared to play after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Mitchell played 19 minutes but was obviously rusty.

“He was cleared today at about 4:30,” Banks said. “If we didn’t have him tonight, I don’t know what we would have done because we had so many fouls. ... Once we get him back, he’ll be an inside threat for us.”

Gardner, a 6-8, 290-pound center, came off the bench to lead Marquette with 25 points. Todd Mayo, the younger brother of Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo, had 20 points, including all three of the Golden Eagles’ second-half field goals.

The Jaguars dug themselves an early hole, making just one of their first eight shots, and played from behind the entire first half.

Marquette used a 10-point run to open a 12-2 lead and then pushed it to 19-5 on two free throws by Mayo with 13:24 left in the half.

Miller’s 3-pointer from the top of the key brought Southern within 24-18, but the Golden Eagles jerked the lead back to 32-20. The Jaguars crept within 32-27 on a jam by Frank Snow, but Marquette quickly ran it to 36-27.

“I thought early on, we had some pretty good looks, but I also thought we had nervous energy coming into the game” Banks said. “At the media (timeout), I told the guys, ‘Relax.’ We were playing like a deer in the headlights. ‘Just settle down, relax and play.’ I thought as the first half went, we got better. … We just couldn’t get over the hump.”