GARLAND, Texas — The Southern men’s basketball team enters the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament knowing it won’t have to deal with Texas Southern or Arkansas-Pine Bluff and needs only a win Friday to reach Saturday’s championship game.
But coach Roman Banks doesn’t want the Jaguars to let their guard down. That would explain his disposition during practice last Friday, when the Jaguars went through a full-court scrimmage.
Some players who blew assignments got an earful from their coach. Others were sent into the bleachers of the F.G. Clark Activity Center, where they ran up and down the steps and all the way around the arena.
“I thought we were a little lax,” Banks said. “We need to be on edge a little bit with some aggression going into the tournament. I don’t want these guys getting into a cool stride. I didn’t feel like we were really focusing in where we need to be.”
Southern, the No. 1 seed and looking to march toward its first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years, opens play in the tournament at 8 p.m. Friday. The Jaguars (21-9) face No. 6 seed Alabama A&M (11-19), which ended Grambling’s winless season with a 59-51 win Wednesday.
Regular-season SWAC champion TSU is not here this week because a postseason ban is part of the school’s NCAA probation. UAPB, which shared second place with Southern, is ineligible because of APR-related penalties.
Without those two, No. 3 seed Alcorn State was the only team in town that owned a regular-season win over Southern — and then Alcorn fell to Prairie View in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
But the Jaguars understand why Banks wants them at their best as they play the most important games of the season.
“We definitely can’t be complacent,” point guard Jameel Grace said. “Your next game’s got to be your best game.”
First-team All-SWAC guard Malcolm Miller said the rest of the league will be gunning for Southern, which started SWAC play 8-0 and spent much of the season atop the conference.
“It’s March madness,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
To win its first game in SWAC tournament play since 2006, Southern will have to beat A&M for the third time this season.
The Jaguars won both regular-season meetings by double figures but in both games had a hard time with forward Demarquelle Tabb, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds in the first game, 22 and seven in the second. Tabb went for 15 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday for his 13th double-double.
“The guy has a lot of energy,” Banks said. “I just don’t think we’ve been doing a good job of matching his energy.”
One concern for Banks is that Southern, the only team in the SWAC tournament with a first-round bye, has had 13 days off since beating Prairie View in its March 2 regular-season finale. Another is that none of the players on his roster has played in the SWAC tournament.
Southern was not eligible for the postseason last year because of APR-related penalties.
“We have to get uncomfortable,” Banks said. “We have to know we’re going into a dogfight.”