Despite ban, home loss, Jaguars men can end well
The Southern men’s basketball team has a chance to carve out a distinctive spot in school history.
Having already won the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season championship outright, the Jaguars need three wins this week to add a SWAC tournament championship. They open play at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Toyota Center in Houston against the winner of a first-round game between eighth-seeded Prairie View A&M and ninth-seeded Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday.
“We’re going to represent Southern University, and that includes the teams that have been successful here in the past, the senior players who helped those teams to have that success,” coach Roman Banks said. “We’d like to be among them.”
The Jaguars have won an outright regular-season title and a conference tournament title in the same season just twice: in 1988 and 2006.
This team is (19-12 and 15-3) and coming off a 67-64 loss to Texas Southern in the regular-season finale Saturday.
“You have to get better as you go to win a conference tournament,” Banks said. “I think we have very good basketball character. We’ve brought in guys that are used to winning, and winning is embedded. Once you taste it, you enjoy it. I like the guys in the locker room because they have a competitive spirit.”
Last season, Southern won this tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where it flirted with an upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga before losing 64-58.
This team won’t have a chance to duplicate everything last year’s team did because the Jaguars are facing an NCAA postseason ban, but they can duplicate the SWAC tournament title.
“We always want to be the champions,” Banks said. “But it can’t be the same.”
But the four seniors on the team — forwards Malcolm Miller and Bryce Clark, center Javan Mitchell and guard Yondarious Johnson — know their careers will end in the Toyota Center some time in the next four days. Winning their final game would take some of the sting away from losing their last home game.
“We can’t go to the NCAA tournament,” Miller said. “But winning the SWAC championship back to back would really mean something. It would mean a lot for the seniors.”
Southern will be without reserve forward Damien Goodwin, who didn’t make the trip because of a concussion suffered last month. In his absence, Clark and Frank Snow will continue in more prominent roles.
“We’re going to go with the same rotation we’ve been going with,” Banks said. “I’m happy with the way Frank has come in and played in a backup role. With Bryce, all along it has not been about his ability but the mental edge. I see him consistently getting better. He has a long way to go, but hopefully he’ll continue to improve in this tournament.
“I believe in this team. I think they’re going to come out and play their hearts out. If we play like we’re capable of, win lose or draw, that’s all I can ask for from this basketball team.”
Banks praised his team for being “resilient” in winning the regular-season title.
“I just hope that it has one more resilient moment left in it,” he said. “What I think is important is that the guys enjoy the moment. I don’t want to put any added pressure on them as this has got to happen because you can’t go to the NCAA tournament.
“That would be unfair to them, and they’ve already been treated unfairly thus far, so I want them to go enjoy this experience, come together as a brotherhood and be ready to represent ourselves as well as we possibly can.”
“We’ve been practicing and playing the whole season, and nobody on this team is going to give up over something we can’t control,” forward Calvin Godfrey said. “We’re all men, and we’re taught to fight through adversity, so that what we’re going to do here: just go and play as though we’re going to the tournament.
“We’ve been working since the summertime, and it hurts to see that after all that work we can’t go. If we can win our tourney, we can show that our hard work wasn’t for nothing.”
The Southern games Wednesday will not be broadcast, but any subsequent Jaguars games in the tournament would be broadcast live on WYNK-FM, 97.7.