HOUSTON — It took Jasmine Jefferson barely a minute to take and make her first shot in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament Friday night in the Toyota Center.
In barely two minutes, she was 2-for-2 and had an assist, and the Jaguars had a 10-2 lead and were off and running to a 64-40 semifinal victory against Prairie View.
After being suspended for Southern’s first-round victory against Mississippi Valley State because of her role in a fight during the regular-season finale against Texas Southern last week, Jefferson was rested and antsy.
She and three teammates couldn’t be at the arena Wednesday as her stellar four-year career hung in the balance while her short-handed teammates fought back from a five-point deficit with an 11-1 run in the final minute.
The suspended players were at the team hotel, following the game as best they could on the Internet.
“My team needed me,” Jefferson said. “Any time we didn’t execute something, I felt like I could have affected that play. It was very hard.”
It was much easier for the team at full strength Friday.
Southern is ineligible for the NCAA tournament because of the university’s inadequate reporting of student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates, but Jefferson and her teammates can do something none of them has done before and the program hasn’t done since 2010 — win the SWAC tournament title. The Jaguars face NCAA tournament-bound Alabama State at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Friday’s tip-off was more than an hour away when Jefferson walked out from the locker room and took a seat behind the Southern bench to watch the end of the Jaguars men’s game.
“We support each other,” Jefferson said.
The men’s team did a pretty fair imitation of the women’s Wednesday night rally by using a 16-4 finishing kick to beat Alabama State and reach their own title game Saturday.
Jefferson was joined on the reinstatement squad by reserves Jadea Brundidge, Shaquandria Litmon and Yasmine Nelson.
Brundidge, a junior from Seattle, had a career-night, finishing with her first collegiate double-double. She tied Jefferson as high scorer with 16 points, making all eight of her shots and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds in 20 minutes.
“I made some bad decisions earlier in the week,” Brundidge said. “So I owed it to my teammates to go out there and play hard for them.”
Litmon and Nelson had less of an impact on the game but no doubt were equally happy to be a part of it.
With a full roster on hand, the Jaguars looked just as they had with a 14-game winning streak prior to the altercation against Texas Southern that resulted in a double-forfeit.
“It was good to get back to playing the Southern brand of basketball,” coach Sandy Pugh said.
Just when it seemed nothing else could happen to this team, leading scorer Kendra Coleman, who along with forward Cortnei Purnell was suspended then reinstated before Wednesday’s game, crashed to the floor midway through the second half clutching her left knee. She had to be carried to the bench.
But within minutes the senior from Donaldsonville was stretching her knee, bouncing around and ready to go back in.
“Her mother was in the stands,” Pugh said. “I told Kendra, ‘You’ve got to get up. Your mama will be worried.’ ”
Coleman got back in a few minutes later to test the knee. Though hobbled, she looked like someone who’ll be ready to play the final game of her illustrious career Saturday.
“I don’t think she would miss it for the world,” Pugh said.
So this crazy season’s finale won’t be about NCAA probation, APR documentation, forfeiture, suspensions or reinstatements.
It will be about one thing and one thing only — a group of Jaguars that has played like a championship team for the last two months having an opportunity to become one.