HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Southern used its defense to come away with an important road win in a Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball game Saturday night at Elmore Gym.
The Jaguars held Alabama A&M to three points in the final four-plus minutes to escape with a 65-58 victory before an announced crowd of 1,327.
“Our defense can be pretty greedy at times,”Southern coach Roman Banks said after watching his team hold the Bulldogs to 36 percent shooting on 22-of-61 shots. “We were able to stop them in transition and we forced them to slow down and play against our defense.
“When we were able to get them in the half court, we felt like we could guard them.”
The win lifted the Jaguars to 9-12 overall and 6-1 in league play.
A&M, which has lost three games by 13 points in league play, fell to 5-11 and 3-3.
Southern led by as many as 10 points on two occasions early in the second half, but A&M refused to go away.
The Bulldogs, playing their first game since assistant coach James Wright died Wednesday, used a 7-0 run to pull within 45-42 on a pair of free throws by Tyler Davis with 12:38 to play.
A&M chipped away at the lead and got within 56-55 with 4:12 remaining on a layup by Rakiya Battle, but couldn’t get any closer.
“They played well,” Banks said. “They kept coming at us. We knew it was an emotional game for them. We thought when we went up by 10 we were going to try to push it on out, but they came right back.
“We didn’t finish plays. We stopped them on the first opportunity, but they were getting second shots and that kept them in the game.”
After the Bulldogs pulled within, Southern’s defense stepped up down the stretch, limiting A&M to just three points the rest of the way.
“We had to lock them down,” Southern forward Joell Hopkins said. “We knew we had to get something done on the defensive end to get the win. We pride ourselves on defense and it helped us win tonight.”
Hopkins led the Jaguars with 19 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, in 24 minutes.
A transfer from Florida State, Banks said Hopkins has been a great addition for Southern.
“Joell is a guy that doesn’t get plays run for him,” he said. “This team depends on him to be a defensive player and he leads us in hustle plays. He’s also a very good offensive rebounder.”
Adrian Rodgers finished with 12 points. Southern enjoyed big advantage at the foul line, making 24-of-30 from the charity stripe, while A&M was just 7-of-17.
Ladarius Tabb led A&M with 23 points, while Michael Hutchins, starting in place of Nick West, who was out with an ankle injury, finished with 10 points.
“This was a big win for us,” Banks said. “They’ve got a good basketball team. We knew, with the emotion surrounding the game, they wouldn’t quit today. Our hearts go out to them, but I’m proud of our guys for getting it done.”
Southern visits SWAC leader Alabama State on Monday night.