HOUSTON — With 10 minutes left in the Southwestern Athletic Conference quarterfinals, the No. 2 seed Southern women’s basketball team was on the verge of elimination.
The Jaguars trailed No. 7 Alcorn State by 11 points, and starting center Miaya Crowder had just fouled out. Meanwhile, senior Britney Washington was watching from the bench after being held scoreless for nearly 30 minutes.
With her team’s back against the wall, Southern coach Sandy Pugh had a simple solution.
“We just needed to relax,” Pugh said. “We had our heads down. We were just making a lot of mental errors and missing layups. I just wanted everyone to relax.”
The Jaguars got the message in the game’s final 10 minutes, outscoring Alcorn 21-8 en route to a 61-57 victory at the Toyota Center.
Sophomore Briana Green scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Washington and fellow senior Ashley Williams combined to score SU’s final 11 points.
“In the end, I’m glad to see them show some fire,” Pugh said. “Britney found her shot, and I thought Ashley came in and brought energy to the team. And we were able to overcome some of that adversity.”
Southern (18-10, 15-4), which won a share of the SWAC regular-season title, will advance to the semifinals at noon Friday, where it will face the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 3 Texas Southern and No. 6 Jackson State.
The Jaguars trailed 51-40 in the fourth quarter Wednesday, but went on a 13-2 run and tied the game at 53 on a Washington jumper with 3:29 left.
A Williams jumper with 1:09 left gave the Jaguars their first second-half lead, while Washington closed out the scoring after missing her first seven shots.
“One thing I love about this team is when one person is down, someone will pick you up,” Washington said. “We can always count on Brianna. There is so much diversity on the team.”
Green was a big part of that Wednesday. The sophomore post player was all over the court scoring, rebounding and diving for loose balls.
“I knew I had to step up and contribute,” Green said. “Coach always wants me to contribute in different ways. When Britney wasn’t scoring, I just had to step up.”
Alcorn State (11-19, 8-11) was led by SWAC Player of the year Norianna Haynes, who finished with a game-high 17 points and 18 rebounds.
“Southern played a great game and had a great game plan,” Alcorn State coach Courtney Pruitt said.
“Southern is a perennial team. They are supposed to be here. We are not.”
Another key to the victory was Southern’s defense, which forced 27 Alcorn turnovers, including several key ones down the stretch.
Williams had four steals, while Skylar O’Bear had three, as the Jaguars began pressing the Braves in the second half.
As soon as the defense turned on the pressure, Washington, who came in leading Southern with 13.4 points a game, found her shooting touch.
“Britney wasn’t hitting her shot early, and I just wanted to give her a chance to sit down and watch the game from a different perspective,” Pugh said.
“Every time I would sub I would look at her to see her facial expressions, and she wasn’t beating herself up. She was keeping her head in the game. This is her senior year, and she puts a lot of pressure on herself to score.”
Washington hit back-to-back 3-pointers — her first points of the day — in the final minute of the third quarter.
Those shots were the spark Southern needed to start a fourth quarter in which they dominated.
“This time of year is just about survival,” Pugh said. “Survive and move forward. That’s what we did today.”