If there was ever a way to evaluate the status of this Southern men's basketball team — to see if, or how far, it’s grown in the first season under coach Morris Scott — it was Saturday against first-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The Jaguars passed with flying colors with a 70-60 win, solidifying themselves as a Southwestern Athletic Conference contender.
“The guys really wanted it bad,” Scott said. “These guys wanted to prove a point.”
Scott said before Saturday’s game that it was time to start thinking about the conference standings and seeding for the SWAC tournament.
"If we want to get back in this race, we have to do a good job of winning the games in front of us," Scott said. "We control our own destiny to get ourselves in that top four."
Southern had to work in and around Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s expected 2-3 zone throughout most of Saturday's game. The Golden Lions' defense is not flashy. But it is efficient, especially against a low-post dominant team like Southern.
“We practiced against it pretty much all week long,” Scott said. “We kind of knew it was coming.”
Working through point guard Eddie Reese, who posted a season-high 19 points, the Jaguars (11-14, 7-5 SWAC) sucked in Pine Bluff’s zone to create openings for guards like Reese to flourish in space.
“Really, we just wanted to be aggressive,” Reese said. “Hitting the lanes, trying to penetrate and make the guys collapse so we could get some movement. As long as we kept them moving, we were going to be successful.”
Forward Jared Sam, the SWAC’s reigning Player of the Week and Southern’s leading scorer and rebounder, scored 14 points and added 11 rebounds, his 11th double-double this season.
Forward Emanuel Shepard added another 15 points on top of Reese’s monster night.
Pine Bluff (9-16, 9-3 SWAC) got 23 points from guard Martaveous McKnight, the SWAC’s leading scorer, and forward Travon Harper had 19.
“We know we can’t afford to drop games right now,” Scott said. “Because we dug ourselves in a huge hole earlier this season. We’re just trying to find a win to grind them out and win as many as we can in this last six games left.”