After a brutal early-season slate that left Southern University men’s basketball team with one win in six road contests, the Jaguars have strung together their first winning streak of the year.
Southern has been feeling the love since returning to Baton Rouge, downing Champion Baptist College by 54 in the home opener Dec. 1, and following that with a 77-50 win against William Carry University on Monday night in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
The Jaguars are now more than halfway back to the .500 mark, improving to 3-5 on the season with the win, while WCU dropped to 9-2 with the loss.
“No question, we needed it,” Southern coach Roman Banks said of the back-to-back wins. “We started off on the road and playing our schedule early, then having to go right back on the road for three more in a tough environment, it helped a lot. (WCU) played Mississippi State to six points. They’ve been winning a lot of their basketball games.”
The victory comes after a nine-day break for the Jaguars, who have played just two games in 15 days. For much of the off-time, Banks has put an emphasis on the defense, and it seemed to be the focal point of the Jaguars’ attack Monday.
Southern held WCU to 0-for-10 shooting from the field to start the game, jumping out to an early 18-2 lead with the Crusaders’ only points coming from two free throws. It took WCU 7½ minutes into the first half to knock down their first bucket of the contest, and the Crusaders eventually cut the lead to 11.
But Southern’s defense didn’t falter, forcing 20 turnovers and 13 steals to go with four blocked shots, all while holding WCU to a 29.8 shooting percentage in the game.
“We were concerned coming into the game about how we were going to match up with them defensively, because they like to get the ball and get up and down the court,” Banks said. “We worked on our transition defense a lot, and I think the guys zeroed in. We guarded (WCU) early better than I expected us to.”
The stout defense came as lagniappe to the hot-handed Jaguars, who shot 50 percent from the field in the first half leading to a 43.1 percentage for the game, much of which came from the efforts of guards Derick Beltran and Malcolm Miller.
Beltran posted a game-high 23 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the field while sinking five 3-pointers. Miller chipped in 16 points of his own, draining four 3s in the process.
“I felt confident in my shot today,” said Beltran, who added six rebounds, two steals and two assists. “I just tried to stay poised and stay confident and get my teammates involved as much as possible. We had the game in the bag, but we were just trying to do the right things. We tried to stay on track and get better as a team.”
As a team, Southern shot nearly 38 percent from 3-point range Monday, hitting 11 threes in the game. The Jaguars also tallied 20 points off turnovers and eight fast break points, giving them a balanced attack.
“I wanted to get a look at our versatility,” Banks said. “We want to run the basketball, but I don’t want to get to throwing the ball up and getting erratic out there. You’re going to see quite a mix for us, because at the same time, I think we need to utilize our bigs.”
Southern’s four main post players combined for 24 points on the night and outrebounded WCU 42-38.
The Jaguars will look to continue their winning ways Thursday when they travel to Monroe to face Louisana-Monroe, followed by two more Texas road trips for showdowns with Texas Christian University and Texas A&M.