Morris Scott will have at least one thing to be thankful for as he carves up the turkey on Thursday.
It maybe took a little longer than he would’ve liked, but Scott officially has his first win as head coach of the Southern men’s basketball program.
After going 0-5 during a 12-day road trip to start the season, the Jaguars finally earned their first win of the season, and first since Scott took over the program in the spring, with a 69-66 win against UT-Martin in Wednesday night’s home opener.
“Turkey is going to taste a little better tomorrow,” Scott said. “I was concerned about that. I was like, ‘Man, we’re struggling right now. We’ve got a couple injuries,’
“But those guys came out a competed like they had something to prove tonight.”
While putting the first win under his belt was certainly a relief for Scott, he was more proud of the way it happened than any personal milestones.
Southern stifled any potential late pushes from the Skyhawks with a gritty defensive performance for the final eight minutes of the game.
UT-Martin failed to hit a single shot from the field during the run and were limited to just five free throws — an acceptable sacrifice considering the final result.
“Those guys just dug deep,” Scott said. “We went to the huddle and said we can’t give up any uncontested shots and we’ve got to dig deep and keep them off the offensive glass. We do those two things and they hit some tough contested shots over us, so be it. But let’s make sure we challenge every shot and rebound the basketball to finish the possession.”
That’s exactly what the Jaguars did, but it wasn’t any of the veterans who completed the objective.
In his first game at the F.G. Clark Activity Center, freshman Mubashar Ali pulled down two clutch defensive rebounds with under two minutes to play and capped it off with three of Southern’s final four points to seal the victory.
Scott was particularly impressed with the mid-range jumper Ali showed late in the game.
He said the 7-foot freshman was pushing him to allow more tries from three, but Scott isn’t quite ready for that, yet.
Ali finished with six points, three rebounds and a block.
As a freshman, he was not made available for interviews.
“He had a wonderful performance,” said senior big man Jared Sam. “I just told him to keep his head up and stay focused. He had a lot of energy coming into the game. He always has a lot of energy, but he stepped up big at the end.”
Sam had a solid performance himself, leading the Jaguars with a game-high 27 points. He also had three rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Forward Fatodd Lewis led the Skyhawks with 25 points and seven rebounds.
“Just happy to be back on our home court,” Sam said. “That was a long road trip and we knew we had to get our first win. Good thing it was at home.”
Southern hosts NAIA Wiley College next Wednesday before hitting the road again.