Southern saw its 17-point lead early in the second half against Grambling shrink and shrink and shrink.
But point guard Christopher Hyder made sure the lead never disappeared, leading the Jaguars to a 66-61 victory Saturday night in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Hyder twice stopped Tigers runs with jumpers, assisted on three crucial late baskets and helped secure the victory by making all four of his free-throw attempts in the final 30 seconds. In all he scored or assisted on 17 of Southern’s final 24 points.
“After four years, I just have a feel for it,” Hyder said. “Most teams play off of me because in the first half I usually look for assists and have zero points. But when they back off of me and give me the jumper I have confidence I can knock my shot down.”
Hyder had four assists and no points at halftime after missing his only two shots. He made all three of his shots in the second half and finished with 10 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. He played all 40 minutes and didn’t turn the ball over.
“He’s a senior doing whatever it takes,” guard Adrian Rodgers said.
The Jaguars improved to 9-7 and got their first Southwestern Athletic Conference win after starting league play 0-2 for the first time in coach Roman Banks’ four seasons.
“We needed that in the worst way,’ Banks said.
Rodgers scored a game-high 19 points and got Southern off to a fast start in both halves as it led wire to wire. He scored the Jaguars first seven points as they opened an 11-2 lead and he scored their first five in the second half as they extended a 12-point halftime lead to 38-21, their biggest margin of the game.
“I just wanted to set the tempo at the start,” Rodgers said. “It could have been three stops or three rebounds, but the shots were there at the start of both halves.”
Jared Sam and Trelun Banks added 10 points each for Southern.
Deonte Hearns had 18 points and Mark Gray came off the bench to score 13 for Grambling (5-10, 2-1), which lost for the first time since ending a 37-game losing streak against Division I teams with a victory in its conference opener against Alabama A&M last week. It was the Tigers ninth straight loss to Southern.
After Rodgers’ fast start to the second half, the Jaguars went cold, and the Tigers were relentless on the inside.
Southern made just one basket in the next eight minutes as Grambling made a push. Hearns scored six points as the Tigers got within eight before Hyder answered with a jumper.
Hearns converted a three-point play before Hyder scored on a drive.
Grambling got within two before Sam scored on a jump hook with 5:33 left.
After Hearns made a free throw, Hyder hit a jumper and Sam made a free throw for a six-point lead.
Four free throws by Gray got the Tigers within two with 2½ minutes left.
With the shot clock about to expire, Hyder got the ball to Trelun Banks, who swished a 3-pointer.
Grambling, which scored 28 consecutive second-half points either at the rim or the free-throw line, turned the ball over and Rodgers scored on a drive with 1:32 left.
Southern never let it become a one-possession game as it scored on its last seven possessions. Hyder fed Sam and Banks for layups before he and Chris Thomas completed the scoring at the foul line.
The Jaguars ended a three-game losing streak with their first victory in 19 days.
“We talked during the game,” Hyder said, “and we said we are not losing this one on our home floor.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.