The Southern women’s basketball team finally caught Texas Southern.
The Jaguars had been pursuing the Lady Tigers for nearly nine weeks, ever since TSU beat Southern 59-45 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener the day after New Year’s.
But on Thursday night in the F.G. Clark Activity Center, the Jaguars won the rematch 56-55 to move into a first-place tie with the Lady Tigers as well as Alabama State and Grambling.
“It feels great,” forward Briana Green said through a wide smile. “I’ve never been so excited to go into a game as I am going into Saturday’s game.”
That would be the regular-season finale against Prairie View in the Clark Activity Center. The Jaguars, 13-4 in the SWAC and 16-10 overall, can claim at least a share of the SWAC regular-season title with a win Saturday.
“It’s exciting to see this team step up this time of year,” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said.
The Jaguars mixed their defenses as they held TSU (13-4, 17-10) to 36 percent shooting and 30 fewer points than Alcorn State had in beating Southern by 11 last Saturday.
“We knew what was on the line,” Green said. “Our defense and our intensity were much better.”
Several Jaguars took turns providing just enough offense to hold off the Lady Tigers in a game that was tight and tense throughout.
Green scored 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter and helped Southern forge a 25-all tie at halftime. Purnell also scored 14, including six as the Jaguars took the lead in the third quarter. Center Miaya Crowder made a rare start and contributed 12 while making Kianna Vines, the Lady Tigers’ leading scorer, work hard on both ends of the court.
Britney Washington scored just nine points, more than four below her team-leading average, but she had seven crucial points in the fourth quarter.
A Purnell jumper and a Washington 3-pointer gave the Jaguars an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but they went scoreless for the next 3½ minutes.
Joyce Kennerson, who led the Lady Tigers with 19 points, and Vines and Brianna Sidney, who scored 15 each, all scored during a 9-0 run that gave TSU the lead with 3:40 left.
Purnell converted a three-point play and Washington made a 3-pointer as Southern took the lead for good.
“Those were big plays,” Pugh said.
But TSU wasn’t done.
Kennerson scored on a drive, and after a Washington turnover, Kennerson’s jumper cut the lead to one with 56 seconds left.
Washington missed, Sidney was called for a double dribble, and the Jaguars called their final timeout with 33 seconds left.
Pugh drew up a pick-and-roll play, but it broke down right away and Washington dribbled into the lane and made a short jumper.
“I wanted to make sure I took care of the basketball because I had just had a bad turnover,” Washington said. “Then I wanted to get a good look at the basket.”
Kennerson missed a 3-pointer, but when the Jaguars Skylar O’Bear missed two free throws it was still a three-point game with 21 seconds left.
TSU, which made five more 3-pointers than Southern (7-2), missed three on the final possession before Ladeyh Forte grabbed the third offensive rebound of the possession and made a layup at the buzzer.
Purnell made three straight jumpers that helped the Jaguars grab a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter.
She had a class conflict that prevented her from participating in the Jaguars’ 11 a.m. shoot-around, so she went to the gym at 9 a.m. to shoot on her own.
“My shot hadn’t been falling,” said Purnell, who finished 6-of-13. “I really wanted this game. I was just determined to do whatever I could to help.”