HOUSTON — As the Southern men’s basketball team prepared a potential game-winning play with 10 seconds left in a tie game Friday, Keith Davis didn’t figure to be the player with a chance to be the hero.
Coach Roman Banks drew up a play for Trelun Banks to go one-on-one. Then, just before the Jaguars returned to the Toyota Center court, he changed the play.
The first option was to look for Tre Lynch, the second to look for Adrian Rodgers. The last resort was to let Christopher Hyder create something.
Alabama State defenders stayed with Lynch and Rodgers, so Hyder drove toward the baseline, pulling the interior defense toward him. Hyder passed to Davis, who was open beneath the basket.
DeMarcus Robinson came over at the last second to slap the ball out of Davis’ hands as he went up, but Robinson was called for a foul with 2.8 seconds left.
“I was a little late on the pass, and I made a play on the ball,” Robinson said. “It could have gone either way, and they just made the call.”
And Davis, a 51 percent foul shooter, made both attempts to give the Jaguars a 68-66 win in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.
“We shoot free throws every day in practice,” Davis said matter-of-factly. “I knew I could do it, and I did it.”
The Hornets’ desperation heave from midcourt missed everything, and Southern (18-16) advanced to the tournament championship game. The third-seeded Jaguars will play top seed Texas Southern, which beat No. 4 seed Prairie View 90-77 in Friday’s late semifinal.
TSU will represent the SWAC in the NCAA tournament because the Jaguars are ineligible for NCAA postseason play. ASU finished 19-10.
“I fuss at Keith all the time about his hands,” Roman Banks said with a smile. “I told our guys, ‘Would you believe that he caught the pass and, not only that, he made two free throws? I guess all my fussing wasn’t in vain after all.’
“But I congratulate him because I’ve been on him quite hard about that.”
The ending was a near-exact reversal of the two-regular-season meetings in which the Hornets (19-10) rallied late to win by four in overtime at home and to win on a tiebreaking jumper with 0.5 seconds left on the road.
This time, the Jaguars trailed by 10 with 5½ minutes remaining.
“The last two times we played them, it’s been close, and they had guys make big shots,” Lynch said. “We wanted to make sure at the end of the game we finished strong.”
Southern finished on a 16-4 run.
“We had control of the ballgame and didn’t finish it out,” ASU coach Lewis Jackson said. “The last few possessions, Southern got stops, and they made shots.”
The Hornets had a 62-52 lead before Davis started the Jaguars’ comeback with a hook shot with 5:16 left.
Rodgers made a jumper and Lynch hit a 3-pointer before Robinson’s two free throws gave ASU a 64-59 lead with three minutes left.
Lynch made a jumper, then his steal led to Banks’ two free throws. Jamel Waters’ steal and layup gave the Hornets a 66-63 lead with 1:56 left, but they didn’t score again.
After missing a 3-pointer, Lynch made another steal and layup and converted the three-point play after being fouled. That tied the score, and the Southern defense forced a shot-clock violation that gave the Jaguars the ball and time to set up the winning play.
Rodgers led Southern with 15 points, Lynch scored 14 and Banks had 12. Waters led ASU with 24 points, Robinson scored 14 and Wendell Lewis had 10.
ASU didn’t make a field goal for the first eight minutes of the game, and Southern led by 12 on three occasions before settling for a three-point halftime lead.
The Jaguars bench outscored the Hornets bench 30-9.
“That was big,” Jackson said.
Lynch, Davis and fellow seniors Frank Snow, Cameron Monroe and Mike Harrell know their careers will end Saturday. They’ve known all along this was as far as their senior seasons could go.
“It means a whole lot to us to go out with a bang,” Lynch said. “We have a chance to give the Southern family what they want and deserve.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.