One day after the Southern basketball team beat Mississippi State on the road, guard Christopher Hyder reflected on the Jaguars’ last victory against a Southeastern Conference team.
It was three years ago, and Hyder was a freshman on a Jaguars team that beat Texas A&M 53-51 in College Station, Texas, in an upset comparable to the 76-72 win this year’s team had in Starkville, Mississippi, on Monday night.
“This one was probably a little easier than the Texas A&M win,” Hyder said before practice Tuesday. “We have more people on this team. In the Texas A&M game, we were still finding ourselves. This team knows who’s supposed to take the shots, who’s supposed to do what. That makes it a lot easier.”
The victory against the Bulldogs came 72 hours after Southern opened the season with an 86-68 loss at Arkansas that coach Roman Banks said was more competitive than the final score showed.
After the game, Banks had former Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson speak to his team.
“He said that he thought we had a good team,” Banks said. “He said they made timely baskets, and it’s our challenge to try and stop them from making timely baskets and our challenge to make timely baskets.
“I think that motivated us a little, and he said that he has watched our program and we’ve been pretty good over time and basketball people know that.”
Hyder, though, didn’t know who Richardson was.
“I had no clue who he was,” Hyder said. “But I looked him up afterward, and coach Banks was telling me about him too.”
After learning facts such as Richardson coached the Razorbacks to the 1994 NCAA championship and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame last year, Hyder said, “very impressive.”
“He told us to look at it like you’re playing in the park,” Hyder said. “Don’t look at the jersey names, just play the game.”
Banks thought the team lacked the intensity at Arkansas that it needed to compete against an SEC team. So he put the team through an intense practice Sunday.
“He felt like we needed to come in with a lot more energy,” said forward Jared Sam, who had 10 points and eight rebounds against State. “He pushed us in that practice and got it out of us, and it carried over to the next game.”
Several players said the victory was a big confidence boost, especially because of the way the Jaguars responded when State turned a five-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead and cut the Jaguars eight-point lead to two with nearly two minutes left.
“We’ve lost a lot of games in the last minute or two in the last couple of seasons,” guard Trelun Banks said. “To withstand a run in front of a big crowd that was loud, against a big school was a huge confidence boost.”
Coach Banks said LSU coach Johnny Jones called to congratulate him during the bus ride home Monday night, and he received other congratulatory messages from former co-workers such as Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, Iowa State coach Steve Prohm as well as several Southwestern Athletic Conference peers.
But once the Jaguars got home, it was time to look ahead to the home opener against Tulane on Thursday night.
“We enjoyed that one until we got back last night,” Hyder said. “Now we’re back at it already.”
Southern shouldn’t have any trouble getting focused on the Green Wave, who have beaten the Jaguars in each of Banks’ first four seasons.
“We have an intrastate rivalry, and they have a very good basketball team,” Banks said. “Our kids know each other, and it’s very competitive. I think we have a group of young men that has been here for a period of time that will make us forget about this Mississippi State win and get us focused for Thursday night.”
Banks said the victory against State will get the attention of the Jaguars future opponents, starting with Tulane.
“Any time you win a game like that, it really motivates the other team to come in and play harder,” Banks said. “I think that will be the lesson for this week. People are going to have extra motivation to come in and beat you because you’re a pretty good team yourself.”
Hyder recalled the impact of that first SEC win, which came early in a season in which Southern won the SWAC tournament and flirted with an upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga before losing 64-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It had a big impact on us,” Hyder said, “because it lets you know you can play with the big boys and lets you know what kind of team you have.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.