The Southwestern Athletic Conference is preparing for its marquee winter sports event: the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which begin Tuesday in Houston.
But the on-court competition was overshadowed Sunday as conference officials evaluated a melee that forced a double-forfeit in the Southern women’s game at Texas Southern on Saturday night.
The brawl came while the Jaguars held a 51-49 lead with 12:36 left. After the officials imposed automatic ejections for everyone who stepped onto the court during the altercation, neither team had the necessary five players to continue, resulting in the double-forfeit.
Since the Jaguars were ahead, they got the victory and a share of the regular-season title. Both teams finished the regular season 16-2.
The Tigers will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament by virtue of having outscored Southern in two meetings. They won the first meeting 62-48 on Jan. 5 in the F.G. Clark Activity Center. Southern is the No. 2 seed, and both teams will begin play in the tournament Wednesday.
The question yet to be answered is which players will be unavailable because of their involvement in the brawl. SWAC officials were reviewing TSU’s game film from the upper-level stands at midcourt to determine punishment. SWAC officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Southern Athletic Director William Broussard, who attended Saturday’s game, compiled a report and filed it with the conference office Sunday night.
“I offered (to write the report) because I was there and I feel my perspective ought to be considered, just like Texas Southern’s,” he said. “I think it’s the responsible thing to do.”
SWAC associate commissioner Edgar Gantt was not at the women’s game, but he arrived during the men’s game later Saturday to present the Tigers with their trophy for winning the regular-season conference title. Commissioner Duer Sharp was en route to Houston on Sunday.
Broussard said he and Gantt briefly reviewed the game film but were unable to draw any conclusions.
Though the SWAC office ultimately will decide who deserves what punishment, officials from both schools seemed to feel neither team was blameless.
After the game, Southern coach Sandy Pugh, whose team gave her a sixth SWAC title in her 15 seasons, said the incident was “an embarrassment” and apologized to Southern fans.
On Sunday, TSU issued a statement in which Athletic Director Charles McClelland said the incident “undoubtedly does not reflect the core values and principles that we expect our student-athletes to exhibit at all times.” Southern issued a statement in which Broussard said he was focused on the Jaguars bench as the incident began and “there was a significant show of and attempt at restraint on the part of our bench.”
The incident began when TSU’s Miracle Davis took a charge beneath the Lady Tigers basket.
TSU’s Alexus Johnson and Diamonisha Sophus threw punches, and security had to hold back Johnson several minutes later from storming into the Southern locker room.
Any player who threw a punch could be facing a one-game suspension.
“I don’t know the repercussions,” Pugh said after the game. “As a player, I was never part or privy to a situation like this. I saw some swinging going on with Sophus. She threw the first lick, and then it went crazy.”
Pugh and TSU coach Johnetta Hayes-Perry were seen being cordial and apologetic to each other after the game.
Broussard said he was hopeful the league would be able to complete its evaluation by Monday.
The women’s tournament begins when No. 8 seed Alabama A&M plays No. 9 seed Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Toyota Center. The winner faces TSU at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Southern faces No. 7 seed Grambling at noon Wednesday. The Jaguars and the Tigers split their regular-season meetings; the home team won each time. Grambling’s victory Jan. 10 was Southern’s most recent loss; the Jaguars have won their past 15 games.
Southern and TSU need to win two games each in the tournament to set up a rematch of Saturday’s contest in the tournament final this Saturday. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but the Jaguars are on NCAA probation so, if they win, the tourney runner-up will get the NCAA bid.
The Southern men, who fell to 13-5 with an 88-78 loss at Texas Southern on Saturday, are the No. 3 seed. The Jaguars will begin tourney play against No. 6 seed Alabama A&M at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Southern swept the teams’ regular-season meetings.
The Arkansas-Pine Bluff women and men are not participating in the tournament because of NCAA probation.
Advocate correspondent Matt Samuels contributed to this report. Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.