GRAMBLING — When Southern opened nearly a 20-point lead against Grambling midway through the second half Saturday, coach Roman Banks saw an opportunity to give some added playing time to his bench players.

It worked out, as all nine players who got into the game played at least nine minutes, but not without some anxiety along the way.

The lead shrunk to four points with more than two minutes remaining, but the Jaguars held on for a 59-53 men’s college basketball victory in the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

All’s well that ends well.

“I probably started substituting a little too freely and didn’t keep some of the main guys in there,” Banks said. “I thought it was a chance for us to work some kids in that hadn’t been playing much. We didn’t capitalize and they came back and before you knew it, it was a close ballgame.

“That’s why I’m not real casual about a lot of subbing like that in a rivalry game like this. It was probably too early and a mistake on my part for trying to go to the bench that deep for that stretch.”

The Jaguars, 4-12 and 2-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, play at Jackson State on Monday. The Tigers are 2-10 and 0-3.

Southern took its biggest lead at 53-34 on Tre Lynch’s jumper with 7½ minutes left, but it didn’t score again until after Grambling had gotten within 53-49 with 2:16 left.

The drought ended when Jared Sam scored on a tip-in. Moments later, Christopher Hyder made a steal and layup for an eight-point lead with 47 seconds left.

Sam added two free throws before fouling out.

“This is a rivalry game and our first road win,” forward Joell Hopkins said. “We just wanted to close the game out.”

Sam led the Jaguars with 16 points, Lynch had 13 off the bench and Adrian Rodgers 12. Also off the bench, Keith Davis had nine and Hopkins had six, making all three of his field goals during the second-half flurry that led to the big lead.

“We spread (the scoring) out a lot today,” Banks said. “The great thing about it tonight was it was Hopkins and Sam, who are not primary scorers.”

Southern went right to Sam at the outset and he scored a basket 15 seconds into the game and had four more early points. Rodgers had nine of his points as the Jaguars built a 30-20 halftime lead.

Sam scored the first six points of the second half on a tip-in, a layup and two foul shots as Southern quickly extended its lead.

“We felt like Jared had a little mismatch on the inside,” Banks said. “So we called a couple of sets for him early and he got himself going a little bit.

“In the second half we called the same play and got ourselves going out of the gate and they had to play catch-up from then on. We talked about winning the first two or three minutes of the second half and we did that.”

They won most of the second half in spite of Grambling’s 15-0 run.

Mark Gray led the Tigers with 14 points and Chase Cormier had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Grambling made just 16-of-48 field goals, but stayed in the game by making 19 of 26 free throws compared to Southern’s 12-of-18 and winning the rebounding edge 37-26.

Even though the Jaguars had balanced scoring it wasn’t because of outstanding ball sharing as they had just one assist on 22 field goals.

Southern had just five turnovers and Grambling had 17.

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.