HOUSTON — Trailing No. 9 seed Alabama A&M early in the second half Wednesday, Southern was looking for someone to step up and help the Jaguars avoid being one-and-done for the third straight year at the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
Instead, the top-seeded Jaguars found three players they could count on down the stretch as Southern discovered its shooting touch and defensive prowess in wearing down the Bulldogs 80-66 in the SWAC quarterfinals at the Toyota Center.
“We knew we had the numbers advantage. We knew we had the size advantage,” coach Sandy Pugh said. “We just wanted to push it up the court, and we knew they couldn’t run with us for 40 minutes.”
Adrian Sanders scored 18 points, Britney Washington had 17 and Kendra Coleman added 16 to lead five Jaguars in double figures.
“We have a lot of depth and, if someone is not doing a good job, someone else can step in,” Washington said. “Five players in double digits — that’s amazing.”
Jasmine Jefferson added 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Keonia Parrish came off the bench to score 10.
“That is one of the good things about our team,” Coleman said. “You don’t really know who to guard. Anybody can get hot at any time.”
After going into the locker room at halftime tied at 37 and trailing 40-39 two minutes into the second half, Southern looked for a spark.
Sanders scored 13 of her points in the second-half run and also took a big charge. Coleman and Jackson also scored 10 second-half points, each finishing with a big 3-pointer.
“I thought Britney came off the bench and gave us a nice boost,” Pugh said. “We were just out of sync offensively in the first half. We weren’t doing a lot of things that we normally do.”
The Jaguars shot 51.4 percent in the second half and held the Bulldogs to 33 percent. Southern also forced 14 A&M turnovers in the second half, compared to seven for SU.
The Jaguars (20-7) will wait until Friday to play the winner of No. 4 Prairie View A&M and No. 5 Alabama State, who play Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Alabama A&M (6-24) finished its season, one day after knocking off No. 8 seed Alcorn State. The Bulldogs were led by Taylor Sippial, who scored a game-high 20 points, and Jasmine Sanders, who had 16.
“We just ran out of gas too early,” Bulldogs coach Semeka Randall said. “Give credit to Southern coming in here and playing like a No. 1 seed is supposed to play. They had their balanced attack, and they stepped up and made big-time plays for their team.”
Faced with an NCAA postseason ban, the Jaguars are looking to end their season with two more wins and a SWAC tournament championship.
“You can look at it a lot of different ways,” Pugh said. “If we win the tournament, we get to go home and eat crawfish and celebrate a great season. Someone else will get to play UConn. We just want to make sure whoever goes on, they know they are the second-best.”