Defense keeps Jaguars in SWAC race _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Southern's Christopher Hyder,left, and Cameron Monroe strip the ball from UAPB's Marcel Mosely last month. Tough-minded defense has been key to the Jaguars' success in the SWAC.

Southern men’s basketball coach Roman Banks insists on his teams being tough-minded defensively, and this year’s version is obliging.

The Jaguars are allowing the fewest points per game (56.2) in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and are limiting conference opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage (34.6) and lowest 3-point percentage (24.4).

That defense is the primary reason Southern (8-2 and 11-13 overall) remains in the thick of the conference race as it hosts Jackson State (5-5, 7-16) about 8 p.m. Monday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

“Our team identity is a defensive team,” center Keith Davis said. “We’re scrappy, we’re physical. For us to win it’s going to be won on the defensive end before the offensive end.”

Still, Banks would like to see a little more offensive consistency so the team is a little less dependent on exceptional defense.

“Our identity is still a defensive-minded team,” Banks said. “I think the difference is right now we’ve been a little bit more inconsistent on offense than I would like to be. I think we do a great job of stopping people. And sometimes, we don’t score enough points when we need to, and that puts pressure on the defense.”

A good example of what Banks is talking about occurred in Southern’s 58-50 victory against Grambling on Saturday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

The Jaguars’ top three scorers all had sub-par offensive games. Adrian Rodgers made 3-of-15 shots, Tre Lynch 3-of-10 and Trelun Banks 3-of-9. They each scored eight points, combining for 11 fewer points than their combined season averages.

The biggest exception was Davis, replacing injured Frank Snow in the starting lineup. Davis made 7-of-11 shots and scored a game-high 16 points.

The Jaguars took control thanks to their defense, which spurred a 24-8 run during an 11-minute stretch of the second half that turned a five-point deficit into an 11-point lead.

Southern, which allowed its fewest points in a conference game Saturday, has allowed as many as 60 points in regulation just once in league play. The Jaguars, who matched their season-low point total in a conference game, rank sixth in the SWAC in scoring (64.1.)

“We’re still growing as a team,” guard Christopher Hyder said.

Southern, which beat the Tigers 60-52 Jan. 12 in Jackson, Mississippi, began the season with a lot of uncertainty because it returned just two starters and none in the frontcourt from last season’s SWAC regular-season title team.

But the Jaguars are tied for second place with Texas Southern, one game behind Alabama State.

So even with the offensive inconsistency, Banks is satisfied with the team’s development.

Thanks to the defense.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the season if I would take the position we’re in, I probably would have taken it,” Banks said. “I might have taken a .500 record.”

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.