The Southern men’s basketball logged a lot of miles during its non-conference schedule as it prepared for Southwestern Athletic Conference play.
It’s road games included short trips to New Orleans and Oxford, Miss., longer trips to Niceville, Fla., and Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Waco, Texas; and even longer trips to Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming and Hawaii.
Now the Jaguars (3-11) are home to begin SWAC play against Prairie View at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
“We had a very tough preseason schedule,” senior guard Tre Lynch said before practice Friday. “Once you get into conference (play), every team is working hard to try and get that one goal, which is to win the championship — regular season and tournament. So coming into it, you can feel the energy.”
Southern won the SWAC regular-season title last season and was picked second in the preseason poll this year. Prairie View, runner-up in the SWAC tournament last season, was picked sixth this season.
The Panthers are 2-11 after a 76-68 loss at Hawaii on Tuesday. One night earlier, the Jaguars lost at Hawaii 71-57.
Southern, which returns six players from last year’s team, has used the preseason to define roles and develop chemistry with so many new faces.
“I think we got better, but I don’t think we were consistent,” coach Roman Banks said of the preseason. “We were trying to establish roles. The chemistry is coming. I hope we have grown enough to be very competitive from this point on.
“I like where we are right now. We’re playing in a much more relaxed state than we were early on.”
Banks has pretty much settled on a starting lineup with Christopher Hyder, Trelun Banks and Adrian Rodgers in the backcourt and Jared Sam and Frank Snow (or possibly Keith Davis) in the frontcourt.
Lynch has been the leading scorer off the bench (13.6) and Cameron Monroe and Joell Hopkins have been key members of the rotation.
Banks said he’s looking for improvement in Southern’s team defense, which might be the biggest key to success.
“Individually, I think we’re pretty good,” he said. “The team defense is not quite there yet. Reviewing tape from last year compared to this year I just don’t feel like we have the presence that we had.
“We have to get more energy and be more active on the inside. I think that’s the difference. We don’t quite have that energy right now that I’d like to have. We’re working toward that.”
The Jaguars beat the Panthers in both regular-season meetings last season — 60-57 at Prairie View in the conference opener and 81-59 at the Clark Activity Center. Prairie View beat Southern 64-46 in the second round of the SWAC tournament.
“We all know that at the end of the day it’s not about how you start,” Lynch said. “It’s about how you finish.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.