It was easy to spot the turning point in the second half of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament semifinal between the Southern men and Alabama State Tuesday night.
Southern had struggled all game to separate itself from the Hornets, but that changed midway through the second half. Jaden Saddler hit a 3-pointer to give the Jaguars an eight-point lead prompting a fist pump from coach Sean Woods.
Southern was in control from the fist pump on as it defeated Alabama State for the third time 67-53 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
The win moves No. 2-seed Southern (17-15) into the semifinal round to face No. 3 Texas Southern, a 75-52 winner over Grambling. The men’s semifinal will be played at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Jaguars defeated TSU 89-74 last Thursday.
Southern led Alabama State 28-27 at the half. The Hornets (8-24) came back to take a 40-39 lead with 13 minutes left, but the Jaguars had a response.
Southern made six of its next eight shots from the floor and went on a 15-4 run. The key shot came with Southern leading 45-40. Saddler’s 3-pointer from the left corner swung momentum to Southern for good despite a timeout called by Hornets coach Lewis Jackson.
It also brought a show of emotion from Woods, who pumped his fist as he headed into a timeout huddle.
Southern led by 14 points twice in the closing minutes.
Darius Williams led Southern with 15 points. Saddler finished with 14 while Micah Bradford (12 points) and Damiree Burns (10 points) also hit double figures.
Kevlon Stewart topped Alabama State with 10 points.
Alabama State was ready to play in the first half. The Hornets took a 7-0 lead, and then withstood a 10-2 run by Southern.
Jacoby Ross made consecutive jumpers to give Alabama State an 18-15 lead. After Jayden Saddler’s three-point play tied the score 20-20, Ross’ 3-pointer helped the Hornets move out to a 27-22 lead with 2:31 left.
It was all the Hornets would muster for the half.
Darius Williams made two key plays as Southern finished with a 6-0 run. Williams got the first two points when on a putback basket after a tough offensive rebound. He set up the last score after blocking a shot by Tobi Ewuosho and saving it inbounds. That play led to Saddler’s fast break basket and a 28-27 halftime lead for Southern.