Following a 77-69 loss to Prairie View A&M at the F.G. Clark Activity Center, Southern’s men’s basketball team will enter the 2018 SWAC tournament full of doubt — exactly what they wished to avoid Saturday.
Because the SWAC tournament begins Tuesday, coach Morris Scott and Jaguars hoped for Saturday’s game to provide an uplifting boost on the heels of Thursday’s 90-88 loss to Texas Southern, the second loss in this three-game slide.
“We can’t limp into the conference tournament,” Scott said Thursday. “We have to find a way to dig deep … and give ourselves some confidence going into this tournament.”
Southern’s recent spiral trails an impressive five-game winning streak in mid-February and even a short stay in second place behind Grambling State, which is ineligible for postseason play because of an Academic Progress Report sanction from the NCAA.
Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff sat in a three-way tie for second place at 11-6 prior to Saturday’s full slate of regular-season finales. All three teams are guaranteed to host a first-round game of the SWAC tournament.
Southern (14-17, 10-8 SWAC), which once led by as many as 10 on Saturday, will host the SWAC’s final quarterfinal contest against Jackson State (12-19, 9-9), which lost Saturday at Alabama A&M.
"We've got to go back and regroup," Scott said. "This group, with a lot of new guys, I think we're mentally drained after dropping those games. We knew how important those games were."
The Panthers countered Southern’s 36-28 lead at halftime with a 24-14 run to begin their 49-point second half.
"I think we did pretty good in the first half," said Southern senior forward Jared Sam. "That second half we played like we were just too cool."
For the opening 10:22 minutes of the final period, Southern became careless, flinging errant passes to Prairie View and established little productivity on offense.
Prairie View caught fire in the final five minutes, draining four 3-pointers to spark a win-sealing 13-2 run before the final two minutes. Guard Gary Blackston scored a game-high 24 points in 40 minutes. Forward Zachary Hamilton added 22 more.
"They made some clutch shots at the end," Sam said.
“The team, Prairie View, they just wanted it more than us," senior guard Chris Thomas added.