Moments after the Southern men’s basketball team had polished off a 61-48 victory over Alcorn State on Saturday night at the F.G. Clark Activity Center, coaches and players mixed with all kinds of proud people — fans, students, family members, school administrators — on the arena’s crowded court.
Malcolm Miller volleyed a beach ball that was making the rounds in a jumble of students.
Some players danced to the blaring music. Some posed for pictures.
Southern coach Roman Banks grabbed a microphone from the scorer’s table and thanked the fans for their support, then walked to an area in front of the Human Jukebox pep band and clapped his hands.
“It was fun and exciting,” Miller said. “I was just trying to embrace the moment and have as much fun as possible with my teammates.”
What exactly were the Jaguars celebrating?
It may have been that Saturday’s win completed a 12-0 season at home, the first time a Southern team has gone unbeaten on its home floor since 2005-06. Or it may have been that Southern reached the 20-win mark, the first time since 1998-99 that has happened.
Or maybe all the smiles were for the team’s four seniors, who saw Southern (20-8, 14-2 in Southwestern Athletic Conference) stay atop the SWAC standings by winning the final game they would ever play on their home floor.
Banks had a hard time narrowing it down.
“This university has been through a lot of transitions, and it’s been a while since we had something to celebrate. It’s a joyous occasion for a lot of reasons,” Banks said.
A year after missing the SWAC tournament because of APR penalties, the Jaguars are the clear favorite to win that event this year and represent the SWAC in the NCAA tournament.
But this was no time to celebrate a SWAC title or a ticket to the Big Dance.
Until finally distancing themselves from Alcorn in the final minutes of Saturday’s game, it looked like the Jaguars would have a hard enough time avoiding a season sweep against Alcorn, which handed Southern its first conference loss in Lorman, Miss., last month.
Alcorn (9-22, 7-9) led by as many as six points in the first half and was down only two with four minutes left.
“They came into our home and made it seem like it was their own,” Miller said. “They didn’t make it easy on us.”
Southern would have been in major trouble had Alcorn, which held Miller to 10 points in the first meeting of the teams, had similar success against him in the rematch.
Miller torched the Braves for 22 points this time, making 7-of-13 from the field and 5-of-9 beyond the arc.
With the Jaguars nursing a 46-44 lead and 3:43 left, Miller hit from the left wing for his third 3-pointer of the game. One possession later, Derick Beltran found Miller in the left corner, setting up the junior swingman for another 3-pointer and a quick 52-44 lead. The Jaguars were on their way.
“I knew any shot I took was going to be a big shot,” Miller said. “I wanted to make sure I was focused and got a good look.”
Miller led the way, but Banks called Saturday’s win a team effort.
Javan Mitchell controlled the inside, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Yondarius Johnson had 11 points off the bench, combining with Miller to help Southern’s bench outscore Alcorn’s 35-6.
Jameel Grace had five assists. Christopher Hyder had four steals.
The Jaguars bumped the lead from one point to seven with a 6-0 run midway through the second half, a momentum-changing spurt that featured two Alcorn turnovers and three trips by Southern to the foul line over the space of 28 seconds.
“Every man did their job to help us win this game,” Banks said.
Southern faces Texas Southern in Houston on Thursday before wrapping up the season Saturday at Prairie View.
TSU entered the weekend trailing Southern by one-half game in the SWAC race.
“It’s far from over,” Miller said. “We have several games left before we can really celebrate.”