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Southern University Jaguars guard Brion Whitley (22) pushes past Tulane Green Wave forward Kevin Cross as he drives to the basket during the first half of a basketball game at the Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The Southern men’s basketball team made history on Saturday, beating Tulane in New Orleans for the first time in 10 tries.

The Jaguars (1-1), who led Louisville in the second half of their opener before faltering, found a finishing kick this time after letting a 12-point advantage slip away. Senior point guard Jaylen Saddler put them ahead for good, 63-61, by converting a 3-point play with 3:34 left, and they held on, 73-70, when Tulane’s Jalen Cook came up short on a 3-pointer at the buzzer off an inbounds pass.

Saddler, a second-team preseason All-SWAC selection, led Southern with 13 points and a career-high 11 assists.

“We’ve been plugging at it and plugging at it,” third-year coach Sean Woods said. “I really like this team because they’re so scrappy and they play so hard and they just find a way. There’s no telling how good this team can be if we stay together.”

Tulane ( 1-1) was done in by poor execution, committing 16 turnovers to nearly negate the 21 it forced while hitting only 6 of 23 from 3-point range. Leading returning scorer Jaylen Forbes missed his first nine shots before finally hitting one nearly five minutes into the second half, and the Wave allowed the offensive struggles to hurt its concentration while falling behind by double digits early.

“We play so young offensively,” coach Ron Hunter said. “I’m just disappointed with the way we started. You could see we let our frustration of missing shots affect the rest of our game.”

After never winning in Tulane’s arena, Southern, which beat Tulane in Baton Rouge six seasons ago, looked as if there was no way it could lose early. The Jaguars hit 10 of their first 14 shots to go up 23-13, and even after they cooled down and started getting careless with the ball, they extended the advantage to 38-27 by halftime by locking down defensively.

Forbes’ first basket sparked Tulane’s biggest push—a 22-6 spurt that turned a 46-34 deficit into a 56-52 lead with 7:30 left—but Southern responded.

Brion Whitley hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. P.J. Byrd sank another trey as the Jaguars briefly reclaimed the lead, and Saddler’s 3-point play started the final push. Driving hard to the basket, he lost the ball on the way up, regained control and finished with contact.

“We just gathered as a team and said let’s play our game, finish and sustain and we’ll win,” Saddler said. “It’s a good feeling. I just feel like it’s a good group of guys this year. Everybody wants to win and everyone’s buying in. It’s early, but I really feel like we’re going to a be a problem this year.”

Byrd, Whitley and Damien Sears all had 12 points in Southern’s balanced scoring effort.

Kevin Cross paced Tulane with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Jalen Cook added 19 points and seven assists, but no one else could get into a rhythm.

The Wave received a huge scare when Cook grabbed his left leg in pain after slipping on a drive with 10:20 left and had to helped off the court, but he returned a few minutes later and scored on a driving lay-up.

“When he got hurt, he was out of control,” Hunter said. “We played that way too often.”


Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith