PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas — Two years ago, the Southern men’s basketball team finished one of the worst seasons in school history at the William Nicks Building.
It was a much different feeling in the locker room Saturday. The Jaguars were clicking on all cylinders in a final tune-up before beginning the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Southern had its inside game working, a shut-down defense and, more importantly, a 61-39 win over Prairie View to give the Jaguars their 21st victory of the season.
“It’s huge for us to come back in this gym on their court on senior night and win like this,” second-year coach Roman Banks said. “This time of year, you don’t want to limp into the tournament. You want to go in running. We got our energy back and feeling good about ourselves. It’s what the doctor ordered to get us ready for Dallas.”
Malcolm Miller came off the bench to score 12 points, while Javan Mitchell, Jameel Grace and Derick Beltran each added 10 to lead the Jaguars, who shot 45 percent.
“We needed to come out and show that we are one of the best teams in the league,” Miller said. “We didn’t want them to get any momentum, because everyone wants to beat Southern. We just took care of it tonight.”
Southern closed the 2010-11 season with a 72-57 loss at Prairie View, a defeat that left the Jaguars 4-26 overall and 3-15 in SWAC play. That loss also marked the end of the Rob Spivery coaching era.
Most of Southern’s success Saturday came down low, and the Jaguars (21-9, 15-3) outscored the Panthers 28-14 in the paint.
“Javon is our key down there,” Banks said. “We have to be able to throw the ball in there to him. He can make shots and create shots for other people.”
Added Mitchell: “After not playing well against Texas Southern (on Thursday), we wanted to come out and dominate tonight. I think we came out with a lot of energy.”
Southern held PV (13-18, 8-10) to 25 percent shooting, including 20 percent in the first half. The Jaguars blocked four shots and forced 15 turnovers that led to 13 points.
“Our team plays better offensively when our defense is on,” Grace said. “It’s a good feeling to get that 21st win. It feels great. I’ve been on both sides of the stick. But we have a lot more work to do.”
Prairie View was led by Jourdan DeMuynck, who scored 18 points. PV led 17-15 at 7:04 of the first half, but Southern went on a 26-12 run into the second half and never looked back. The Panthers made just two shots from inside the arc in the first half.
Grace said a lot of the energy came from wanting to bounce back.
“Coach always says we need to show the character of our team after a loss,” said Grace, who had four assists. “I think we did that tonight.”
The Jaguars will be the No. 1 seed in the SWAC tournament, which opens March 12, and will use the next week to rest several players — including Grace and Beltran, who have been battling shoulder and knee injuries.
“We really need to get some guys rested up,” Banks said. “The break is going to be a good recovery time for everyone. I think we are playing good right now. It would have been a waste to come down here and not play like a true division winner. This team won 21 games — something that hasn’t been done in a long time.”