Southern will be the higher seed when it faces Alcorn State in the quarterfinals of the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament.
But when those teams meet at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Toyota Center in Houston, Southern will be on the heels of a late-season slide, while Alabama State is on a late-season surge.
The fourth-seeded Jaguars (11-7, 19-12 overall) lost four of their last five regular-season games, a stretch that began with a 77-68 loss at Alabama State on Feb. 20. The fifth-seeded Hornets (14-16, 9-9) have won six of their past seven.
But Southern has five days to try to regain the form it showed in winning 10-of-11 going into the loss at Alabama State and in an 84-79 win against SWAC champion Texas Southern on Thursday.
“Everybody comes to the tournament with a clean slate,” guard Trelun Banks said. “Everything is up for grabs. Whoever wins keeps going, and whoever doesn’t, won’t.”
The Jaguars late-season struggles have coincided with shortcomings inside — mainly inconsistent scoring and inadequate rebounding.
In their four losses beginning with the one at Alabama State, the Jaguars were outrebounded in three of them and by an average of nearly five per game in all four. They were outscored in the paint in all four games and by an average of four per game.
“We’re going to talk about ourselves,” coach Roman Banks said. “We’re going to continue to try to attack on the inside. We need to be consistent as individuals.”
Coach Banks said Southern’s problems on the inside have caused the team get “back on our heels” early in games.
In their past four losses, the Jaguars trailed Alabama State 20-8 early, were down at halftime time to Alabama A&M (40-30) and Alcorn State (30-23) and trailed Prairie View 34-22 in the first half. Those losses wound up coming by an average margin of 11 points.
Even in the victory against Texas Southern, Southern had to fight its way back from a 36-27 deficit in the first half.
“I still believe that this team has more in its tank,” coach Banks said. “I’m going to continue to believe that and continue to work it. We’re going to spend the next few days trying to get better. We’ve got to gain more respect on the inside.”
The Jaguars looked like they had found some answers in the victory against Texas Southern, which had lost just once previously in conference play. But two days later, they lost to Prairie View 79-71 for their only home loss of the season.
Southern won the first meeting against Alabama State 73-69 on Jan. 23 in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.