HOUSTON - First-year Southern basketball coach Roman Banks has quickly learned two things about his team: The Jaguars are undersized, but they are going to play hard.
Both of those traits were displayed Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse, as Southern hung with Rice until the final five minutes, falling 80-65 in front of 1,308 fans.
The Jaguars (1-2) shot the ball well, making 45 percent of their shots, but Southern’s smaller lineup was out-rebounded 42-28, including 13-5 on the offensive end.
“We can’t let size be an excuse,” Banks said. “We are going to be smaller than everyone we play this year. We have just got to get our guys to play with more energy to make up for that lack of size.”
Southern did have plenty of energy, holding a lead midway through the first half and drawing within two points with 11 minutes to go in the second half.
What the Jaguars didn’t have was an answer for Rice’s Tamir Jackson in the final 10 minutes.
The 6-foot-3 junior scored a game-high 29 points, including two second-half 3-pointers that helped the Owls (2-0) pull away.
“I just wanted to give my team the lead so we could cruise the rest of the game,” Jackson said. “I was feeling it after some great preparation. I didn’t force too many shots.”
Southern was led by senior Quinton Doggett, who had 18 points and eight rebounds.
“We’ve been working hard on a daily basis, and we want to be able to beat teams like this,” Doggett said. “We just have to play stronger and step up.”
Derick Beltran was Southern’s only other double-digit scorer with 14 points.
“This was a really good team that wanted to run, and we couldn’t’ stop it,” Beltran said. “We were waiting for our run, and it just never happened.”
Rice coach Ben Braun was also impressed with Southern’s play.
“They are a very scrappy team,” Braun said. “They did a good job with ball security, not turning it over a lot. They were very calm with the ball and got it where they wanted and that hurt us in the first half.”
Things started good for the Jaguars, as Mike Celestin hit a 3-pointer from the left corner for the game’s first points. The Jaguars then matched the Owls point for point during the next 12 minutes.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jameel Grace gave Southern a 23-20 lead at the 10:20 mark of the first half. An 11-1 run by the Owls followed, however, giving Rice a 46-39 halftime lead.
The Jaguars came out strong in the second half. Fredrick Coleman grabbed a rebound, drove down the court and hit a mid-range jumper to pull the Jaguars within 46-43.
The Jaguars then scored on four straight possessions, with Doggett and Cameron Monroe each getting fouled after the basket twice. Each made 1-of-2 free throws, drawing within 55-53 at the 11:50 mark of the second half.
That was as close as it would get, however, as Rice went on a 10-0 run highlighted by two Jackson 3-pointers and an Arsalan Kazemi dunk.
While Southern’s improved play is a welcomed surprise from last year’s worst finish in school history, it still isn’t completely satisfying for Banks.
“I take the compliments from other coaches saying ?You guys are doing a good job and the team looks different’, but that doesn’t help me at all. I tell these guys, ?I want to win ballgames’.
“I just have to have balance. As bad as I want to win, I have to grow this team up. It’s going to take a little time, but hopefully during conference play, we will be able to win a game on the road like this.”