When the Southern men’s basketball team faces Mississippi Valley State on Monday night, it will mark the first time since Jan. 6 the Jaguars have played without sole possession of first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach Roman Banks said he wasn’t sure how his team would respond. He’ll find out when Southern, coming off a 55-52 loss at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday, looks to snap a two-game road losing streak against Valley at the Harrison HPER Complex in Itta Bena, Miss.
“We can’t put our heads down,” Banks said. “We need to get better real fast and get much tougher and more efficient.”
Southern is 9-0 at home this season with four straight wins by double figures. But after the Jaguars won their first four road games of the SWAC season, they followed a 61-57 setback at Alcorn State on Jan. 26 with Saturday’s defeat.
In the process, Southern (16-8, 10-2) let UAPB (11-13, 10-2) grab a share of the conference lead. Not since Alabama A&M and Alabama State joined Southern at 2-0 in early January had the Jaguars, who tore to an 8-0 start, been without sole possession of first place.
“This team is going to be just an OK team in the end if we can’t stand up and grow up on the road,” Banks said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to be confident in yourself and be the same home or away.”
Southern will try to rebound against a team it beat 88-54 on Jan. 14.
The Delta Devils (4-18, 4-8) are led by SWAC scoring leader Davon Usher, who averages 17.5 points overall and 18.8 in conference play. In an 80-75 victory over Alcorn State on Saturday, he had 30 points and made six 3-pointers.
A key for Southern will be getting Malcolm Miller in a groove again. Miller matches Usher with an 18.8-point scoring average in SWAC play, but his production has slipped in recent weeks. He went 1-for-9 from the field Saturday, scoring only three points.
That puts more on the shoulders of Derick Beltran, who had a team-high 18 points against UAPB after torching Jackson State for 35 the week before. Banks said Miller’s top performances this season came as opponents focused their efforts on Beltran. That hasn’t been the case lately.
“People know who he is now,” Banks said of Miller. “Derick is doing a good job of being consistent with his numbers, and we haven’t been able to get Malcolm to respond as well.”
Valley is 3-2 at home but 1-14 on the road.