Southern found itself looking for a spark late in the first half of Saturday’s game at Grambling, and junior forward Samkelo Cele delivered with one of basketball’s rare plays.
With Southern trailing by 10 points, Cele was fouled by Grambling’s Trevell Cunningham as he made a 3-pointer. Cele made the free throw to convert the four-point play, and Southern played inspired basketball the rest of the way as it rallied for a 61-55 win — its first of a truncated season — at the Hobdy Assembly Center.
Southern (1-4, 1-0 SWAC) had not played since a Dec. 16 loss at Alabama-Birmingham, and did not look sharp in the first half at Grambling. The Jaguars made only 7 of 24 shots, and committed 12 of their 20 turnovers.
In the second half, Southern turned a 28-23 halftime deficit into a 50-41 lead with 6:35 left. Grambling got as close as 57-55 in the final minute, but Terrell Williams and Harrison Henderson each made a pair of free throws and Grambling (3-6, 1-1) misfired on its last four shots.
Terrell Williams scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half to lead Southern. Harrison Henderson had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Brendon Brooks handed out six assists and scored five points down the stretch.
The teams traded baskets early in the game, when there were four lead changes. Lamarcus Lee’s 3-pointer gave Southern an 11-8 lead, its last of the first half. From there, Grambling went on a 20-7 run to take a 28-18 lead.
Trevell Cunningham, who led Grambling with 18 points, scored four points during the run. As a team, the Tigers forced eight turnovers and made 8 of 23 shots during the surge. Southern took 12 shots and made only two.
Cele’s four-point play got momentum to swing Southern’s way with 1:40 to go in the half. It carried into the second half when Southern outscored Grambling 9-3 to take a 32-31 lead.
Cunningham’s jumper and a dunk by Prince Moss helped Grambling take its last lead at 37-33. Southern responded by outscoring Grambling 17-4 over the next seven minutes of game time to take a 50-41 lead.
Cunningham scored Grambling’s next eight points as the Tigers closed the gap to 52-49. Southern made just 1 of 5 free throws before Henderson and Williams each hit free throws to put the game away.
For the game, Southern made 21 of 49 shots (42.9%), but it was on target in the second half when making 14 of 25.