STARKVILLE, Miss. — Southern pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the early days of the college basketball season when it beat Mississippi State 76-72 Monday night in Humphrey Coliseum.
“One of the biggest wins in program history,” coach Roman Banks said.
It was the Jaguars’ second victory against a Southeastern Conference team in Banks’ five seasons. Southern beat Texas A&M 53-51 on Dec. 22, 2012, in College Station, Texas.
That team, Banks’ second, went on to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament and flirted with an upset of No. 1-seeded Gonzaga before losing 64-58 in the NCAA tournament.
“That season put a spotlight on where the program was headed,” Banks said. But the past two seasons the Jaguars were ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA probation, which was lifted in May.
“This victory creates excitement for recruiting again,” Banks said. “But we can’t let one game get in the way of our focus. We want to play consistent and continue to win.”
So far this season, which began Friday, the SWAC has five upsets, claiming victories over squads from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Conference USA, SEC and the Western Athletic Conference.
Southern (1-1) plays its home opener against Tulane on Thursday night in the F.G. Clark Activity Center. The Bulldogs are 1-1 under first-year head coach Ben Howland, a former head coach at UCLA, Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona.
The Jaguars were on the back end of a two-game season-opening road trip that began with an 86-68 loss at Arkansas on Friday.
“I didn’t think we played bad at Arkansas,” Banks said. “We cut their lead to six (midway through the second half), and we tried to build on that.”
Against the Razorbacks, though, Banks said the team didn’t have the intensity level necessary against SEC competition.
Southern studied the film of the Arkansas game Saturday, then had a “blowout practice” Sunday at Humphrey Coliseum.
“Tonight we came out with the aggression you need to play at a high Division I level,” Banks said. “Whether we did good or bad, we were aggressive.”
The Jaguars led 45-40 at halftime, but briefly lost the lead in the second half. The Bulldogs led 61-59, but Christopher Hyder made a layup and Trelun Banks hit a tie-breaking free throw that started a 13-3 run that gave Southern a 72-64 edge.
“That was the biggest statement in the ball game,” Banks said. “We could have folded, but we showed the leadership and the confidence in one another that we needed.”
State got within 74-72 with 1:41 left, but I.J. Ready missed three shots and Malik Newman missed two free throws before Chris Thomas got free for a layup with 37 seconds left to complete the scoring.
Trelun Banks scored a game-high 18 points for Southern before fouling out. Adrian Rodgers had 16 points, making 4-of-6 3-pointers, and Jared Sam had 10 points and eight rebounds.
“Our guards were very good tonight,” coach Banks said. “I don’t always judge them on the number of points they have. Jared Sam was big for us inside and on the boards.”
Craig Sword led the Bulldogs with 16 points, Gavin Ware had 13 and Travis Daniels had nine points and 10 records.
The Jaguars held the Bulldogs to 38.3 percent shooting (23-of-60) and forced 19 turnovers, 10 of which came on steals.
“We just have to move on and look forward,” Sword said.
Ware had only two of his 13 points in the second half and had just three shot attempts in the second half.
“We have to get Gavin more shots,” Howland said. “But give credit to their defense. They came out with more fire and intensity and I have to make our guys understand that you have to show up every game or you will get beat. This just shows the parity of college basketball.”
Southern opened the game on a 7-2 run and managed to hold the lead throughout most of the first half. The Jaguars were able to build that lead largely due to shooting 56.7 percent in the first half, including 4-of-8 beyond the arc in the opening half.
The Bulldogs has 11 turnovers in the first half and trailed by as many as seven points in the first half. The Bulldogs never led by more than one point in the first half and only held three different leads in the first half.
“We knew they have a very good team and a well-coached team,” coach Banks said. “But we also think we have a pretty good group of guys that on any given night can compete. We knew they would come out with a big surge in the second half and make a big push. So we knew it was important to keep an early lead and keep the pressure on them.”
Mississippi State only shot 29.4 percent in the second half and just 38.3 percent for the game. The Bulldogs were only 11-of-31 beyond the arc and had 19 turnovers. The Bulldogs held a 44-34 advantage on the backboards and received a game-high 10 rebounds from Travis Daniels, who also had nine points.
“Way too many 3-pointers shot for our team,” Howland said. “That was dictated by their defense, but that is way too many 3-point shots for us. Half of our shots were 3-pointers, and we can’t have that.”
Southern shot 46.8 percent for the game and 37.5 percent in the second half. The Jaguars had just eight turnovers in the game and had 10 steals. The Jaguars also outscored Mississippi State 34-20 in the paint.
Southern scored 24 points off Mississippi State turnovers while the Bulldogs only had 10 points off Southern turnovers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.