HOUSTON — After losing four of its last five games following a 7-1 conference start, the Southern women’s basketball team was in dire need of some momentum with the SWAC tournament two weeks away.
They found it Thursday in the unlikeliest of places — and from one of the unlikeliest of sources.
Freshman Britney Washington came off the bench with the Jaguars trailing 53-52 and 17 seconds left and got a key rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to put SU up by one.
Washington then stole the ensuing inbounds pass with 10 seconds left to seal the deal and give the Lady Jaguars a thrilling 55-53 win over first-place Texas Southern at H&PE Arena.
“We came out ready to work and took on the challenge,” said Yasmin Fuller, who scored a game-high 20 points for the Jaguars. “That was a big play by Britney, especially being a freshman. I’m just so proud of her.”
The SU victory snapped TSU’s 15-game winning streak and was the Lady Tigers first loss since Southern beat them in Baton Rouge on Jan. 2.
“We’ve had our struggles lately, but anytime you can win on the road against a team like that, it’s great,” SU coach Sandy Pugh said.
“We changed a few things and made it clear what we expected going forward. I think they bought into it today.”
In the final seconds, the Jaguars had to dig deep. Southern was already playing without guard Adrian Sanders (concussion) and had starters Jasmine Jefferson and Laneisha Stephens foul out and get knocked out with an injury.
Pugh looked down her bench and called Washington’s number for the final sequence.
“I went with size over class,” Pugh said. “Britney is a freshman, and I went with her over Kendra Coleman. It was a gutsy call, but I’m glad I did it. She came through with flying colors.”
Washington, who was unavailable to reporters because she is a freshman, finished with just the two winning points, one big offensive rebound and one key steal.
“What a finish,” Stephens said. “It was do or die for us, and we came out and played hard.”
Stephens and Coleman each had nine points for the Lady Jaguars (13-5, 12-5), while Lechell Rush had seven points and six rebounds.
“I knew after we beat them the first time, it was going to be a battle,” Coleman said. “We had to meet that intensity and I think it was a big momentum shift for us.”
TSU (18-10, 15-2), which already wrapped up the SWAC’S No. 1 seed, was led by Teera Williams, who scored 17 and Janelle McQueen with 10 points.
Southern is battling Mississippi Valley State, who lost to Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Thursday for the No. 2 seed. A Southern win against Prairie View on Saturday would wrap up the No. 2 seed outright for the Jaguars.
Southern came out strong early. Fuller hit a 3-pointer and then got a steal and drove down the court to give SU a 10-4 lead. A Coleman steal and layup on the next possession made it 12-4.
Another Fuller steal, full-court drive and basket put SU up 18-10 with three minutes left before halftime. Southern closed out the first half with six straight baskets, including four points from Stephens, to give the Jaguars a 24-14 halftime lead.
TSU pressured Southern early in the second half, forcing several turnovers that led to easy baskets as the Lady Tigers drew the Tigers closer.
Coleman made a big 3-pointer to make it 40-36, but TSU responded with a 3 of its own, another steal and a layup to give the Lady Tigers their first lead, 41-40.
A Fuller steal, layup and foul shot gave Southern a 45-42 lead, but then things got tough for Southern. Jefferson fouled out with 5:22 left and Stephens went out for the second time, this time with a bloody nose.
TSU took a 53-52 lead and with 31.7 left, Fuller took the ball to the basket, but missed. That’s when Washington flew in, got the rebound and was fouled, sinking the winning two free throws with 18.1 seconds left.
TSU called timeout with 13.7 seconds left only to see Washington steal the inbounds pass.
“Britney has played well for us the last couple games, so I’m not that surprised she came in and did what she did,” Pugh said. “I think we got some momentum back. Now we just need to keep it rolling.”