To topple the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s best, Southern needed to be as sharp as ever.
It's been a usual theme for the Jaguars this season. Three quarters of quality basketball and then a fourth frequently associated with drama. Monday against Jackson State, the SWAC's winningest club, Southern was forced to follow three quarters of stellar defense to shut the door and seal a win in yet another intense fourth.
For the second in-conference game in a row, Southern closed — and the Jaguars clipped the top-ranked Tigers 86-76 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Jackson State (8-5, 3-1 SWAC) preferred leisure with its offense. With size and the SWAC’s No. 1 rebounding unit as a hoist, the Tigers wished to drop the ball inside and have their bigs operate against Southern’s undersized interior defense as starting forward Sarai Blissett was absent with a knee injury.
Makes or misses do not much matter for the Tigers. Jackson State, which has collected 16 or more offensive rebounds in 13 consecutive games, has a rebounding past sure to provide plenty of shot attempts. If that didn’t work, Jackson State’s bigs could kick it out for a good-looking 3-pointer.
"Our biggest challenge was to keep them out the lane," said Southern coach Sandy Pugh, "and don't let them get looks."
Southern did just that.
The Jaguars fell early in a 7-2 hole in the first quarter because of Jackson State’s inside-outside offense. Then Southern (4-9, 3-1 SWAC) expanded into a smothering full-court press for most of Monday night.
The swarming defense held strength for the entire first half as fatigue became its most concerning opponent going forward. The up-tempo defense yielded a plentitude of offensive possessions with many points attached.
Torrid defense produces offense. In Monday’s case, Southern finished with 31 points in the first quarter and 28 in the second before the Jaguars began to tire in their 10-point third quarter. Against a wearing Jaguars defense, Jackson State pounced.
“I really just wanted to win,” said Southern’s star senior forward and leading scorer Briana Green, who finished with a season-high 31 points. "But 31 points is good, but a win is better."
The Tigers plopped 34 points on Southern in the second half and chopped Southern’s 59-42 halftime lead to three points, 78-75, in the fourth quarter's final two minutes.
However, beside an unstoppable Green, Southern securely fastened another treasured SWAC win against a pending comeback to add a second win in three days.
“My concern was Briana getting tired," Pugh said. "She fought through the fatigue and was able to play the entire game and I didn't have to take her off the floor. I just think Briana was huge tonight."