The last time Southern and Alcorn State met, the Jaguars won in a showdown for sole possession of second place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
But a lot has changed since that meeting four weeks ago, which ended with Southern’s seventh consecutive victory in a streak that would reach eight. The Jaguars (10-5 in the SWAC and 18-10 overall) have gone just 3-3 since then, losing their last two and three of their last five to drop into fourth place.
The Braves (11-4 and 13-13) stand alone in second place, 2½ games behind Texas Southern, though they’re coming off a 73-60 loss at Alabama State that ended a five-game winning streak Monday. That loss and the one against Southern are the only ones for Alcorn in its last 14 games.
Tip-off for the rematch is 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the Davey L. Whitney Complex in Lorman, Miss.
“This is a big game for us,” Jaguars coach Roman Banks said Friday. “A win is crucial to ensure we get a high seed and have a good position in the brackets (in the SWAC tournament.)”
The Jaguars are coming off losses at Alabama State (77-68) and Alabama A&M (77-68). In both those games they were outrebounded (42-40 vs. ASU and 34-25 vs. ASU). Additionally their bench was outscored by their opponent’s counterparts in both games (19-9 vs. ASU and 45-17 vs. A&M).
“We’ve got to have more toughness and a lot of things fall into that category,” guard Adrian Rodgers said. “It’s defense, it’s 50-50 balls, it’s sacrificing your body, taking charges, protecting the rim. Those are the things we’ve been practicing to try and fix.”
Though the last two games represented Southern’s lowest points totals in the last nine games, the bigger emphasis has been on improving the defense.
“We scored enough points, but we let them score too many points,” Banks said.
Guard Christopher Hyder said the Jaguars have been focusing on defensive fundamentals.
“We’ve got to get back to our defensive principles,” he said. “The better we play on the defensive end the more chances it gives us on the offensive end.”
Banks said he plans to start D’Adrian Allen (6-foot-8) at forward in place of 6-5 Rashad Andrews, who is more of a perimeter. Allen started early in the season before sustaining a severe ankle injury in December. Banks said Allen is 100 percent for the first time since the injury occurred.
“We’ve just got to do a better job inside, period,” Banks said. “We shouldn’t be beat on the boards the way we have been regardless of who we’re starting.”
In a 75-64 victory against Alcorn in the F.G. Clark Activity Center, Southern had the rebounding edge (39-38) and both benches scored 16 points.
The Jaguars had more steals (eight) than turnovers (six) and held Alcorn without any fast-break points.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.