The Southern University men’s basketball team has had its fair share of tests already this year, going on the road for the first month of the season, playing five games in eight days and playing in front of packed arenas from major-conference teams.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Jaguars (4-6) who have to hit the road again Saturday to head to College Station, Texas, for a matchup against Texas A&M.
It’s the second trip in less than a week into the Lone Star State for Southern, which dropped a 68-57 contest to TCU on Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Saturday’s game is the final road test for the Jaguars before they open Southwestern Athletic Conference play at home Jan. 2. And while the majority of the big-name games have resulted in losses so far this season, Southern coach Roman Banks said the team has had other goals in mind through the start of the season.
“Obviously the scoreboard is important, but are we getting better? Did we perform like we want to perform?” Banks said. “Even if we won or lost, it’s still a scenario and a question that we ask ourselves as a team — are we continuing to get better and get ourselves prepared? Because you can also win the basketball game and not play well, it depends on your opponent.”
Texas A&M (8-2) has won five of its past six games, with both losses coming at home. The Aggies rank No. 38 in the nation with a 47 percent field-goal percentage this year, but give up an average of nearly 70 points per contest.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, were riding a three-game win streak into the TCU game, and Banks said he had begun to see the progress he was looking for during that stretch.
Southern has one more home game against Spring Hill College after Christmas before opening SWAC action at home against Texas Southern.
Banks said the early-season challenges, like TCU and Texas A&M, have been a big help in getting his team ready for conference play, but he was also wary of what it might do to the Jaguars’ confidence.
“I think you have to be careful with that,” Banks said. “I think it can get you prepared to play, and I think it can also take away from the confidence, too. There’s some mixed emotions but I think that as a coach, you need to be concerned about that because you would like to take momentum into conference play with a couple wins and playing pretty good.
“I call it a double-edged sword.”
The Aggies are led by the two Turners — senior guard, Eltson, and senior forward, Ray. Both Turners average double digits in points. At 6-foot-9, Ray will present an added challenge for the Jaguars forwards that Banks has ridden hard all season, in particular Javan Mitchell.
Mitchell averages 10.4 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per contest, while guards Derick Beltran and Malcolm Miller pace the scoring with 17.3 and 13.3 points per game, respectively.
Banks has repeatedly strived for balance in the Jaguars offense, but continued to preach the same concept — improvement.
“We’re going to be concerned going in, trying to win, but also trying to get better in the areas we need to get better in,” Banks said.
“We always want to represent ourselves and the university in a grand way, so we’re going to try to go in and put our best foot forward.”