After growing up in the Northeast, Ashante Shivers was looking for a warm climate to continue his college basketball career, and he found it at Southern.
Now a starting guard for the Jaguars after sitting out a year following a transfer from Siena College, the 6-foot-3 junior from Seat Pleasant, Maryland, is looking to help Southern’s offense heat up as it begins Southwestern Athletic Conference play Saturday.
Beginning with a pre-Thanksgiving visit to Nebraska on Nov. 22, Southern (3-10) has played its past nine games on the road. Although Southern went 1-8 on the trip, there were tough assignments along the way, including a trip to Butler, which is ranked 10th in the latest coaches poll.
The schedule remains difficult this weekend when Southern travels to Texas Southern (3-10) and Prairie View (4-9), teams who were picked to finish first and second in a preseason poll of SWAC coaches and administrators. TSU is coached by former LSU coach Johnny Jones.
Southern, picked to finish sixth, takes on Texas Southern at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Jaguars face defending conference champion Prairie View at 8 p.m Monday.
With 13 new players on its roster, Southern has used its time away from home to work on chemistry.
“I feel like the road trip made it easier for us to prepare for the conference games,” Shivers said. “We played a lot of good teams on the road. Like coach (Sean Woods) said, we’ve got a lot of different ingredients to put in with all of these new players. Now that we’re getting to conference play we get to see where we’re at.”
Two areas where Southern has improved is rebounding and defense. After finishing last in the conference last season in rebounds per game at 30.6, Southern is currently in fifth place with 36.1 per game. The Jaguars held opponents to a league-worst 48.1 percent shooting last year, but have improved to 46.8, which is sixth place this season.
“We’re defending and rebounding like crazy,” Woods said. “But putting 13 new guys together has made the offense a task. In the last three games I've seen things starting to turn, and I think we’re ready.”
Southern led California Baptist and UC-Santa Barbara in the second half, but faltered in the final 10 minutes to lose both games. Shivers scored 10 points against California Baptist, and came up with a season-high 22 points against UC-Santa Barbara.
After being away from live game action for a year, Shivers said he can see his own game taking a turn for the better, as well.
“I’m not going to lie,” Shivers said. “In the beginning it was a struggle because you’ve got to get used to the speed of the game again. Not playing games for so long is pretty tough, but the coaches did a good job of helping me adjust.”
Shivers averages 8.0 points per game. Freshman forward Damiree Burns comes off the bench and leads the Jaguars with 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Against Texas Southern the Jaguars will look to contain Devonte Patterson, the preseason conference player of the year. Patterson was suspended for the first eight games of the season, but has averaged 14.2 points in the five games he has been back.
JAGUARS TO FACE FORMER COACH PUGH: The Southern women (2-9) open league play as the favorite to successfully defend their 2019 SWAC title. First up is a game at Texas Southern (5-6) on Saturday. On Monday, the Jaguars will face off against Prairie View (3-9) and former coach Sandy Pugh.
Tipoff for both games is 5:30 p.m.
Despite winning regular season and tournament titles last season, Southern lost twice to Prairie View. Jaguars coach Carlos Funchess was an assistant under Pugh, and the two have stayed in touch.
“Obviously, we’re not the ones out on the court,” Funchess said. “We’re just trying to get our kids to play as hard as they can, and she’s doing the same thing.”