BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s been nearly a decade since the Southern women’s basketball team had a chance to slip on their dancing shoes, and now they’re heading back to the Big Dance after an impressive defensive effort in SWAC title game on Saturday.
The Jaguars (20-12, 14-4) got a double-double from tournament MVP Alyric Scott and two crucial 3-pointers in the final quarter to power their way to a 45-41 win over Jackson State on Saturday and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I thought both teams came out and played extremely hard,” coach Carlos Funchess said. “I knew it was going to be a defensive battle coming into the game and whoever could make the most shots was going to win the basketball game.”
Scott had her third double-double of the season with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
“It feels great,” Scott said. “Every night I come on the court and do everything I can do for my teammates, and tonight we just got a win.”
Southern (19-12) will learn its tournament destination when the complete field is announced at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
Jackson State (18-13) tied the game at 33 on the first basket of the final period but Skylar O’Bear hit the first 3-pointer of the game — both teams combined to go 0 for 21 from long range before that — to give the Jaguars a 36-33 lead midway through the quarter.
“Those kids have answered the bell,” Funchess said. “O’Bear hit a big 3 and I thought that got our confidence back and gave us the confidence that we could win this basketball game.”
Kaisah Lucky gave the Lady Tigers their first lead since the second period on two free throws but Scott hit an easy layup on the ensuing possession to help Southern regain the lead before Courtney Parson — named to the all-tournament team along with Scott — hit the only other 3-pointer of the game to give Southern a four-point lead with two minutes remaining.
“I saw that the shot clock was winding down and I had to put it up,” said Parson, who finished with nine points, six rebounds and seven assists. “We don’t practice those shots, but we play around and shoot shots like that all the time. I just shot it and luckily it went in.”
The Lady Tigers cut the deficit to 43-41 with 56 seconds left but Brittany Rose found Rishonti Cowart off the inbounds pass for an open layup that sealed the final margin.
Southern shot only 33 percent for the game but held the Lady Tigers to only 27 percent while forcing 15 turnovers and winning the rebound edge 43-42.
Despite an impressive defensive performance, it was the two 3-pointers from O’Bear and Parson that were the difference.
“Defensively, I thought we were solid the whole night, we just didn’t hit a lot of shots,” Funchess said. “We missed some easy things around the basket, I don’t know if it was nerves or something like that, but we made them when it counted.”
Southern split the regular-season series with the Lady Tigers but earned its fifth conference tournament title with Saturday’s victory and will make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since the 2009-2010 season.
Funchess, a 13-year assistant under Sandy Pugh, was named the SWAC Coach of the Year after leading the Jaguars to a second straight regular season title in his first season at the helm of the program. He is also the first head coach to win the SWAC tournament title in his or her inaugural season since former Prairie View A&M coach and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke did it during the 2006-2007 season.
“For me, I’m so more happy for the kids,” Funchess said. “I’ve been blessed enough to go to the NCAA tournament as a player and I coached on the men’s side, and on the women’s side we’ve been. I have a lot of championships, 13 or 14, but I’m more so happy for them because this is what they earned. But it takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of discipline and dedication, and a lot of saying ‘no’ to friends and family when they want to do certain things. You have to be dedicated if you want to be a champion.”
“When these young ladies came to Southern University, it was to win championships, and of course to get an education. We’ve been a perennial power at the top each and every year. That’s what they came here for and they expect to be champions. There were challenges this year and they stepped up to the challenge.”