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Southern's Chris Thomas (4), Sidney Umude (20), and Jared Sam (12) vie for the rebound with Alcorn State's Troymain Crosby (23), Saturday, January 27, 2018, in the Jaguars' 61-48 win over the Braves at Southern's F.G. Clark Activity Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

The Southern men’s basketball team's ascent toward the top three in the Southwestern Athletic Conference keeps thundering forward.

With seven victories in the past eight games, the Jaguars have stockpiled enough wins to begin to zoom in on first place and a shot at a conference championship. The latest came Monday in a 55-51 victory against Mississippi Valley State.

"We're just starting to find our stride," said senior forward Jared Sam. "Right now, we're just concerned about winning, really."

The Jaguars (12-14, 8-5 SWAC) have won three straight and were in position to climb into third place if Texas Southern lost to first-place Grambling late Monday night.

"We're getting closer and closer back to the top," Sam said. "That's a good win to keep moving forward."

Second-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff lost two in a row before Monday afternoon, including 70-62 to Southern on Saturday.

Mississippi Valley State (2-24, 2-11 SWAC) and Alabama A&M remain tied in last place.

"Very crucial time in the season," said Southern coach Morris Scott. "We're all kind of logged jammed right up there. We're right there competing to go to third, to second. We're right there giving ourselves a chance to possibly be in first ... There's a lot of teams right there."

The Jaguars depart for their final in-conference road trip of the season this weekend. Southern will begin a three-game swing at Alabama State next Saturday, Alabama A&M on Monday and at Alcorn State on Feb. 24.

Southern began conference play 1-4 but has two three-game winning streaks in the past month.

This one came despite 19-of-56 shooting from the field. Sam recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore guard Jamar Sandifer scored 12 points, point guard Eddie Reese added 11 points and senior guard Chris Thomas had 10.

“Just a little flat today," Scott said. "I thought we missed some easy shots, especially early ... Tip your hat to Mississippi Valley. They're always going to be scrappy."