DAYTON, Ohio — Southern lost its NCAA men’s basketball tournament First Four game to Holy Cross in the final minute Wednesday night in the UD Arena.

The score was tied before the Crusaders outscored the Jaguars 7-3 in the final 55 seconds.

But a slow start had just as much to do with Southern’s demise as it fell behind 20-9 midway through the first half.

“We jumped out to a nice lead,” said Robert Champion, who led Holy Cross with 19 points. “I thought we were controlling the game on the defensive end.”

It was 180-degree turnaround from the blistering starts that fueled Southern’s three wins in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament last weekend. The Jaguars jumped on Alabama State (21-6), Texas Southern (20-2) and Jackson State (7-0).

“Early on they set the tone,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “I thought they came out of the gates with a lot of energy and executed very well. It took us a little time to find our rhythm.”

Playing small ball

After Southern had its lowest-scoring half of the season and trailed 27-22 at halftime, Banks decided the Jaguars best chance against the Crusaders’ 1-3-1 zone was to go small in the second half.

Forward Shawn Prudhomme started the second half in place of center D’Adrian Allen, who didn’t play in the second half. Backup center Tony Nunn played just two minutes after halftime as Banks brought forwards Chris Thomas and Rashad Andrews off the bench.

“I didn’t think the bigs really understood how to get their position in the zone,” Banks said. “I went with some of the guys that understand how to play a little bit more. But I also did it for the defensive end because in the first half we had a tough time guarding their bigs that shoot the basketball.”

Despite playing with a smaller lineup, Southern outrebounded Holy Cross 33-29 and had advantages in points in the paint (26-14) and second-chance points (15-2).

NCAA tournament history

Holy Cross won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1953, but the school has an interesting history in the tournament.

This is its 13th appearance in the tournament and its first since 2007. The Crusaders improved to 8-12 in NCAA play.

It was 69 years ago that Holy Cross defeated Oklahoma 58-47 in Madison Square Garden to win the NCAA championship. That Crusaders team featured future Boston Celtics star and Hall of Famer Bob Cousy.

Southern was making its ninth appearance and dropped to 1-9 in the tournament. Its victory came against Georgia Tech in 1993. In their last appearance the Jaguars lost to No. 1 national seed Gonzaga in 2013.

Lagniappe

This was the first meeting between Southern and Holy Cross, though the Crusaders were 1-4 against teams from Louisiana: 1-1 vs. LSU and 0-1 vs. UL-Monroe, UNO and Tulane. … According to STATS, Holy Cross is the 25th team since 1955 to get into the NCAA tournament with a losing record (14-19). The Crusaders joined a handful of others who managed to win their opening games.

Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.