The Southern men’s basketball team enters the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament on its worst slide in league play during coach Roman Banks’ five seasons.
The fourth-seeded Jaguars (19-12) have lost four of their past five games, a period that began with a 77-68 loss to fifth-seeded Alabama State (14-16), which will be their opponent in a quarterfinal game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Toyota Center in Houston that will be carried on WXOK-AM, 1460.
If there’s reason to think Southern can regain the form it showed in an eight-game winning streak earlier in the season and make a run through this tournament, it’s that it has shown an ability to recover from bad performances.
“The season’s not over,” guard Trelun Banks said. “A lot of games we have started off slow. You can’t do that. It’s hard to come back on teams. So we’ve got to come out with a full focus and play for 40 minutes.”
The Jaguars have generally done that in the wake of low points.
After opening the season with a lopsided loss at Arkansas, they came back three days later and beat Mississippi State on the road, just the program’s second win against a Southeastern Conference team under Banks.
After playing poorly in a loss at Grand Canyon University, they came back two days later and won at Wyoming.
After losing back-to-back games for the first time — at Memphis and at Louisiana Tech — they beat North Carolina Central in a tournament in Las Vegas.
After opening the SWAC season with losses at Texas Southern and Prairie View, they beat Grambling to start their eight-game winning streak.
After a last-second loss at Jackson State, they won back-to-back games before the loss at Alabama State, which started a three-game losing streak.
Then last Thursday, they ended the streak with one of their best performances of the season, knocking off SWAC champion Texas Southern. But two days later, they lost to Prairie View in their only home defeat of the season.
Coach Banks has consistently said the team hasn’t been consistent enough.
In the loss at Alabama State, Southern fell behind 20-8 and never fully recovered. Banks said he plans on starting the frontcourt combination of Jared Sam and D’Adrian Allen against the Hornets for the first time Thursday. Allen didn’t start the loss to Alabama State or a 73-69 victory against the Hornets on Jan. 23 because he was working his way back from an ankle injury.
With 6-foot-5 Rashad Andrews starting in place of the 6-8, 225-pound pound Allen, the Jaguars had trouble matching Alabama State’s physicality.
“Jared and D’Adrian give us some size, so we hope to get off to a good start,” Banks said. “We need a physical presence early in the game.
“We haven’t really gotten any better on our attack on the inside, and we’ve got to get better. That means when we throw it in there, we’ve got to get some shots. We’ve got to post them deeper.”
Sam is the most-likely player to provide inside scoring. His 9.5 scoring average is greater than the 7.6 that Allen (3.6) and backup Tony Nunn (4.0) average combined. But Sam’s average in SWAC play is 8.4 compared with 11.0 in pre-conference play.
He said he has to work harder to recapture his early season success now that teams are focusing on him more.
“We don’t have the one guy that we’re going to throw it into and he’s going to back you down and do something,” coach Banks said. “When you don’t shoot the ball well, you need to have something else. We like to get up and down in transition, but my style of coaching is to be effective on the inside.”
Southern is hoping Sam, who had 12 points against Prairie View for just his second double-figure game in the past 11, can follow the lead of reserve guard Shawn Prudhomme, who has had an offensive resurgence off the bench down the stretch.
Prudhomme has scored in double figures in each of the past three games, including a career-high 28 against Texas Southern. He had scored in double figures in just three of his previous 11 games after having a stretch of six double-figure games in seven during pre-conference play. He led the team with three 3-pointers against Texas Southern and with four against Prairie View.
“We’re going to have different people every night to throw in our two, three, four 3-pointers that we usually get,” coach Banks said. “We want to attack the basket more.”
Against Texas Southern, Prudhomme also took advantage of the added attention All-SWAC guard Adrian Rodgers got when he came off of screens, slipping to the basket to receive a pass for most of the eight layups he made.
“If we’re going to go somewhere, he’s got to be able to come in and be able to do what he was doing early in the year,” coach Banks said of Prudhomme.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.