The Southern men’s basketball team let an opportunity to grab a share of first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference slip through its fingers when it lost in overtime at Alabama State four weeks ago.
The Jaguars fell farther off the pace three games later when they lost to Jackson State. But Southern (14-14, 11-3 SWAC) has a chance to catch Alabama State (15-7, 11-2) in the loss column when the teams meet again at 8 p.m. Monday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center (ESPNU). Texas Southern, which hosts the Jaguars in the regular-season finale next month, also is 11-3.
“I know a lot of things are riding on this game as far as positioning in the standings,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “It’s one of those games that I think (the Jaguars) have been looking at from the corner of their eye. There doesn’t have to be any magic speech for me to get them ready for that game.”
The Jaguars seemed to have command of the first meeting when they raced to a 17-point first-half lead before faltering. The lead shrunk to 10 at halftime, and the Hornets scored the first seven points of the second half and went on to win 63-59.
“We’ve got to play for 40 minutes,” Southern guard Christopher Hyder said. “When a team like that gets the momentum going, it’s hard to stop them.”
“We’ve got to stay focused,” center Frank Snow said. “Last game we got up, then lost focus.”
Snow returned from hand surgery to play 18 minutes in a 72-63 victory against Alabama A&M on Saturday. Snow’s presence took on added importance in the Jaguars thin frontcourt after forward Jared Sam was sidelined by a sprained ankle suffered late in the first half.
Banks said Sunday that Sam has a grade II sprain and will miss two weeks. Joell Hopkins started the second half Saturday in Sam’s place, but Banks said he hasn’t decided who will start Monday.
“It’s next man up,” said guard Adrian Rodgers, who likely will see some time in Sam’s spot when Banks goes to a smaller lineup. “Coach Banks preaches to us to always be ready. We’ll be ready.”
In the first meeting, Alabama State out-rebounded Southern 54-40, including 21-14 in offensive rebounds. The Hornets shot 27 free throws to the Jaguars’ nine, which yielded a 12-point edge at the line. Southern’s position in the standings got more precarious after the loss to Jackson State.
“That game hurt us,” Hyder said. “We had to look at things in a different way. Every game was almost a must win.”
Alabama State lost to Alabama A&M a few days later, tightening the race.
“You hate to lose a game,” Banks said of the Jackson State loss. “But I think we learned a lesson that actually helped our team get better here in recent weeks.”
The Jaguars have won their past three and can guarantee themselves at least a share of the regular-season title for the second consecutive season if they win out.
“We always focus on the next game,” Rodgers said. “We don’t worry about the game we just played because we can’t do anything about it. That’s how we’ve kept our focus — next game, next game, next game.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.