When the Southern women lost to Alabama State 60-59 in overtime Saturday night, there was one statistic that jumped out from the box score.
It was free throws: Alabama State shot 20 more of them than Southern did. Though the Lady Hornets didn’t take full advantage, shooting just 54.5 percent (18-of-33), they still scored 10 more points at the foul line than the Jaguars did (8-of-13).
“When you give up 33 free throws at home, that’s the No. 1 (concern),” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said. “That’s not a good stat. The point of emphasis is position defense and box out. The bottom line is it comes down to playing with toughness and doing what you’ve been taught and executing.”
The focus for the Jaguars (8-8 overall and 5-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference after seeing a five-game winning streak end) on Sunday was getting better at the things that led to the disparity in free throws. They’ll face Alabama A&M (3-13, 2-4) at 3 p.m. Monday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
In addition to putting Alabama State on the foul line too frequently, Southern was hurt by an inability to establish an inside scoring presence. Pugh played four post players, and they combined for five points in 33 minutes.
“Our bigs are an integral part of what we do, and we never got anyone going,” Pugh said. “We couldn’t run anything.”
The Jaguars trailed 19-8 after one quarter but held Alabama State to eight second-quarter points to get within three points at halftime.
After both teams scored 20 points in the third quarter, Southern held Alabama State to four in the fourth quarter as it forced overtime.
“Our defense stepped up tremendously in the second half,” Jaguars forward Briana Green said.
But the Jaguars came up short in overtime as Alabama State shot 12 free throws. Though the Lady Hornets made just five, it was enough to win after the Jaguars lost four overtime possessions because of turnovers.
“We were rushing,” Green said. “We were moving too fast. We were doing things we’re not used to doing. We’ve just got to be able to stay calm and stay focused.”
Southern won both games against Alabama A&M last season: 84-53 at home and 77-55 on the road.
The Jaguars hope to allow fewer free-throw attempts the Lady Bulldogs than they did against the Lady Hornets. But if Southern doesn’t, it can take solace in the fact that Alabama A&M ranks last in the SWAC in free-throw shooting (54.5 percent).
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.