A pair of low scores kept Saturday's fanfare at a minimum.
Southern and Alcorn State, dueling middle-of-the-pack Southwestern Athletic Conference foes, grounded each other for as long as possible. Neither team could gain separation. Leads constantly swapped and ties were taken until the second half waned and Southern bursted toward a 61-48 win.
There were no stalwart, shiny nights. Senior Jared Sam, Southern’s leading scorer with more than 15 points per game, had 13 points and 15 rebounds. Chris Thomas, Southern’s rangy senior wing, posted 12 points and forward Emanuel Shepard added 11.
"I didn't know I had 15 rebounds," Sam laughed after the win. "Dang."
"It's anybody's night," Sam added. "Chris had double figures today. Emanuel had double figures. It can be anybody's night, any game."
In 18 reviving minutes, guard Aaron Ray, who did not play Monday against Alabama A&M, added seven points and sparked Southern on both ends of the floor, coach Morris Scott said.
But once again, as it crept in with a 24-22 lead at halftime, stress was brewing for Southern.
It’s a theme for Southern (9-13, 5-4 SWAC) lately and has largely resulted in wins. Defense-first duels that inevitably are decided in the final minutes — if not seconds — of any given game.
"These guys are finally figuring it out," Scott said. "Learning how to finish off games, we've been talking about it, of course, cause we've had so many game that have just been close at the end."
Dating to Jan. 8, Southern’s past five games have each needed seconds to establish a winner. To beat Jackson State on Jan. 8, Southern needed four points, 65-61. The Jaguars next two games, a loss at top-ranked Arkansas-Pine Bluff and a win at Mississippi Valley State, landed in overtime.
Then the Jaguars returned to Baton Rouge to began a three-game homestand, which, three wins and zero losses later, ended with Alcorn State (7-16, 3-7 SWAC) sucking Southern into another stressful one.
"Those guys are finally realizing if we rebound the basketball and take care of it on the other end, and make sure we get good possessions, that we can win games comfortably," Scott said, "instead of being down to the wire every single time."
Southern’s past three games — and wins — were decided by a total of 16 points: 63-61 over Alabama State last Saturday, 62-61 versus Alabama A&M on Monday and, now to add a small margin of relief, Alcorn by 13 points.
The Jaguars are 8-1 at home and their four-game winning streak is the longest of the season. Each win has featured a different recipe behind surprise breakout games from a handful of players, both reserves and starters. Saturday's was no different.
"We're starting to gel together," Sam said.
"I like where we're at right now."