Three days ago, the Southern men’s basketball team came close to pulling off what would’ve been a huge upset.
It would’ve been one of the biggest wins in the program’s rich history. It would’ve been the first signature win of the Roman Banks era.
But in the closing minutes of Tuesday night’s game at Providence, the Jaguars couldn’t quite keep up. They lost by six points, 59-53.
On one hand, Banks said, it was fulfilling to see his very young, very inexperienced players throw a serious scare into a Big East team. It seems to serve as proof that after only a few weeks of practice and early-season play, Southern appears to be in much better shape than it’s been in recent years.
On the other hand, Tuesday’s loss was also a golden opportunity that slipped away. Had the Jaguars found a way to hold on, their upset would’ve been a cannon shot heard ’round the Southwestern Athletic Conference, if not mid-major basketball in general.
Instead, it’s just another loss.
“We had our chances. We had our chances,” Banks said. “If we have just a play here and a play there go our way, we’re talking about a huge victory for our school and our program. ...
“But what I will say is, our effort was there. We all talk about representing Southern and playing for our school and what it means. I think our guys are really doing that.”
Now, on the day after Thanksgiving, after another long trip and a little turkey time, the Jaguars (1-3) face Florida A&M (0-4) at noon Friday in the South Padre Island Invitational.
After Tuesday’s loss, the team itinerary looked like this: fly from Providence to Houston, then take a seven-hour bus ride down to south Texas, where the team plays two games at South Padre Island.
Friday’s game against FAMU will be followed by another game Saturday against Western Carolina or Northern Colorado.
And despite recent losses to Rice and Providence, it’s been a somewhat-satisfying few weeks for Banks and his crew.
If they keep playing with effort and pride, Banks said, they can succeed in the long term.
“Good programs have a brand,” he said. “The first thing we talk about is playing hard, playing tough and playing smart, and representing who we are. We have established the brand. We just have to make adjustments and find a way to get it done.”
The Jaguars certainly played hard and tough against Providence.
Southern’s defense wasn’t perfect, but it held guard Bryce Cotton — who had ranked third in the Big East in scoring average — to a mere six points, and the Friars made only five of their first 26 shots from the floor.
As for the offense, Banks said, it showed promise.
The coach praised backup point guard Tre Marshall, a walk-on, for giving the team 16 minutes off the bench when starter Jameel Grace got into foul trouble (Marshall had four rebounds and missed his only shot attempt).
“We talk to our guys about being ready, and he was ready,” Banks said. “I give credit to our guys for playing well when the time came.”
Banks said he liked how his team scored in transition, keeping Southern in the game until the end. Four players played 25 or more minutes for the Jaguars, and two players — Derick Beltran and Quinton Doggett — almost played the entire game.
Beltran had 12 points in 35 minutes, and Doggett had 13 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.
“I really don’t think we’ve hit our stride on offense,” Banks said. “We shot 20 percent from 3-point range (against Providence). I think we can shoot about 35 to 40.”