Southern's first conference win was important for a number of reasons.
Primarily, Saturday marked the Jaguars' first win against a Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent. Their 80-69 defeat Saturday of Grambling, the school's archrival, made it that much sweeter.
Inside the comfort of their own home, coupled with the largest crowd they’ve had all season, the Jaguars’ 11-point win against the Tigers added to Southern's 5-0 home record.
"It definitely was a good one for us," Southern first-year coach Morris Scott said.
Saturday was also a bounce-back day for Southern (5-11, 1-2 SWAC), which dropped consecutive road losses at Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M to begin SWAC play.
"Well the win is pretty important for us," sophomore guard Jamar Sandifer said. "We just tried to come out as strong as possible coming off the road trip, going down 0-2."
Maybe Grambling being in town fueled the Jaguars with extra oomph.
Maybe it was the Jaguars’ hunger for their first SWAC win, especially at the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Maybe it was a coincidental, yet perfectly aligned, combination of the rivalry on their home floor.
"We talked about it all week — about still protecting home, trying to keep winning at home," Scott said. "You have to do that to stay in the race for a title or a championship in league play."
Southern relentlessly punched the interior of Grambling’s defense, slashing in the paint and drawing enough fouls to attempt a season-high 42 free throws. They made 32, also a season high.
“We found we had an advantage in there early," Scott said, "so we figured we keep going to it a little bit."
Southern's advantage was to place the ball in 6-foot-10 star forward Jared Sam's hands on the block, leaving Sam space to attack Grambling's interior. Sam posted a game-high 19 points and connected on 11-of-12 free throws.
"I just so happened to be having a good night at the free-throw line," Sam said. "I know it's important to knock down free throws, especially in a close game at the end like this."
Elsewhere, Grambling and Southern mirrored each other on a box score. Southern had 17 turnovers; Grambling had 16. The Jaguars had 34 total rebounds; the Tigers had 31.
Southern’s offense, however, stalled late as fatigue became visible. It couldn’t convert a single bucket in more than four minutes of the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s game.
Without scoring, Grambling’s offense possessed life, punishing the Jaguars for 48 second-half points with a comeback in mind. The Tigers shrunk Southern’s double-digit lead to five with 52 seconds until the final horn.
Mainly at the free-throw line, Southern finished its final 48 seconds on a 6-0 run and a first SWAC win was all but earned.