Senior forward Jared Sam grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds, and three Jaguars scored in double-figures to defeat the Alcorn State University Braves 61-48, Saturday at the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Alcorn State (3-6, 7-16) controlled the first ten minutes of the game taking a 13-6 lead on A.J. Mosby's jumper from beyond the arc. The lead would soon fizzle over the next five minutes, as Southern (5-4, 9-13) went on a 9-2 run and tied the game at 15 on a Christopher Thomas layup with five minutes left in the first half. Southern would close the second half outscoring the Braves 9-7 to take a 24-22 lead into halftime.
"We had to play defense. We thought (Alcorn) was a team that plays very explosive offense and they have two guards that went on runs by themselves," said interim head coach Morris Scott.
Southern's defensive pressure ignited a dominant second half performance propelling the Jaguars to their fourth straight win after starting 1-4 in league play.
The Braves opened on an 8-2 run cemented by a Maurice Howard three-pointer which gave Alcorn a 30-26 lead three minutes into the second half. Much like the first half, that momentum was short-lived as Southern responded with a 29-5 run over the next seven minutes to take a 49-35 lead on a Thomas jumper. The Jags recorded four shots from beyond the arc during the seven-minute run.
For the Braves, a 14-point deficit was too much to overcome, despite going on a 13-4 run over the next seven minutes to close the gap at 53-48 but that was as close as Alcorn State would get
Southern closed the game on an 8-0 run and reached above .500 in the SWAC standings at 5-4.
The Southern University Jaguars' defense held Alcorn's leading scorer AJ Mobby to six points, and the Braves to a season-low 27 percent from the floor (16-of-59).
"We just challenged our guys all week to lock in and play great team defense and help each other out and fly around," Scott said.
Scott added, "(Tonight's game) is the best defensive effort we had all season, as far as flying around and being connected as a team. This team is starting, finally, to find themselves."
Jared Sam recorded his ninth double-double (13 points, 15 rebounds) of the season which ranks 25th in the nation. Christopher Thomas and Emanuel Sheperd scored in double figures 12 and 11 points respectively.
"I tell everybody, that having Shaquille Benson back in practice after being out for a week, its been beneficial for Jared to have a big guy in practice that is the same size to fight with on defense in practice," said Scott referring to Sams' improvement from last week's struggles.
As a team, Saturday also represented one of the Jaguars better shooting outings from the field as Southern shot 39.6 percent from the floor (21-of-53) and made 7-of-21 from 3-point attempts.
Southern has been hard to tame at home, owning a 7-1 home record, including their current four-game winning streak.
The race to the top of the standings now gets tight, with UAPB (7-1), and Jackson State (6-2) suffering losses Saturday. Last season, the SWAC unveiled a new tournament format which granted the top four teams in the conference standing a slot to host the opening round of the SWAC Basketball tournament at their respective home venues. SU currently sits fourth as a result of two teams ruled postsesaon ineligible by the NCAA.
The Jags will have Monday off after concluding the first half of SWAC play.
"We know we have to be a lot tougher, [teams] know more about you, so they will take more things away. It will be about us trying to execute, if we stay tough on defense I think that will carry us," said coach Scott in preparing for next Saturday's matchup versus Grambling State to start the second half of league play and the march towards postseason action.
Southern will head up to Grambling, La. to face archrival Grambling State University at the F.C. Hobdy Assembly Center for a 5:30 scheduled tipoff.