DAYTON, Ohio — Southern played its best basketball of the season during a three-game run to the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship last weekend.
That earned it the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance in four years, but it was one of the Jaguars’ worst shooting games of the season that ended their season in the First Four on Wednesday night.
Southern was the best team in the SWAC at shooting 3-pointers, but it made just 3-of-20 3-pointers in a 59-55 loss to Holy Cross in the UD Arena.
It was a combination of Holy Cross’ 1-3-1 zone extending beyond the 3-point arc, Southern’s inability to get the ball inside effectively and just missed jumpers that doomed the offense.
“I like to give the other team all the credit,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “I thought we had some pretty good looks and they put enough pressure on us where we didn’t shoot the ball well.
“Early on, we settled for shots and then when we weren’t able to throw the ball into our big. We went all perimeter.”
Crusaders guard Robert Champion scored 10 points in the final six minutes, including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, and finished with a game-high 19 points. Anthony Thompson added 12 points.
Adrian Rodgers led Southern with 14 points, but he made just 1-of-7 3-pointers. Shawn Prudhomme scored 10, but made just 1-of-6 3-pointers.
The Patriot League tournament champion Crusaders (15-19) will play No. 1 West regional seed Oregon on Friday night in Spokane, Washington. Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Southern finished the season 22-13.
Trelun Banks, who was the Most Valuable Player in the SWAC tournament, scored just five points, but his one made 3-pointer in four attempts tied the score at 52 with 1:22 left. But on the ensuing possession, Champion answered with an even bigger 3-pointer.
“Everybody dreams of making that shot,” Champion said.
After Prudhomme missed a jumper, Cullen Hamilton made two free throws to give the Crusaders a five-point lead with 27 seconds left.
Rodgers made a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, but Champion’s two free throws completed the scoring nine seconds later.
“One thing they do is they shoot the basketball very well and they proved that tonight,” coach Banks said. “They made some timely baskets that hurt us and ultimately separated the game from us.”
Rodgers scored just two points in the first half and Southern trailed 27-22 at halftime, but he had a much better start to the second half.
Seven quick points by Rodgers gave the Jaguars their first lead at 29-28 as the Crusaders went nearly four minutes without a field goal to start the second half.
“We just started attacking the gaps,” Rodgers said. “We felt we weren’t doing that enough in the first half. That just really opened up the zone. They started respecting that and when we started attacking and kicking it out we started getting better looks at the rim.”
Rodgers went to the bench after committing his third foul and Holy Cross opened a 38-33 lead.
Then Christopher Hyder went to work. Twice he made steals and converted layups to get Southern within a point. Then he made a jumper and passed to Chris Thomas for a layup. Rashad Andrews added a free throw and the Jaguars had their biggest lead at 42-38 as Rodgers returned with 8:42 left.
“It turned in our favor,” Hyder said. “I kind of got us oing on the defensive end and got us in the open court where we wanted to play. That’s more of our game.”
But Champion and Karl Charles made 3-pointers as the Crusaders regained the lead at 48-46 with three minutes left.
Prudhomme answered with a 3-pointer, but Charles made both ends of a one-and-one and Champion made two free throws to give Holy Cross a three-point lead that it relinquished only briefly after Banks’ 3-pointer.
“We started out like gangbusters,” Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody said. “But Southern didn’t quit and the second half we just went back and forth. It came down to the last minute and we’ve won five games in a row now and four of them came down to the last play — literally.”