GARLAND, Texas -- When coach Roman Banks got to Southern University less than two years ago, the Jaguars were coming off a last-place finish in the SWAC while facing reduced scholarships and a one-season NCAA ban on postseason play because of inadequate academic progress.
Now, much sooner than Banks could have ever imagined, they're going to the NCAA tournament.
Derick Beltran had 13 points with a late steal and breakaway layup, and Southern held on for a 45-44 victory over Prairie View on Saturday for the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship and the league's automatic NCAA berth.
"I'm full of emotions right now," Banks said. "All the adversity we had to come through, I wouldn't have thought it in my wildest dreams. ... I figured it would be a four- or five-year fix. I thought we'd establish Southern as one of the better basketball teams in our state.
"I thought maybe we'd win a game in first year and little more in our second year," he said. "We're not there yet. But we'll definitely take this early ride."
Beltran's big play with 1:41 left made it 45-38, and the Jaguars (23-9) then held on despite some late turnovers and a wild game-ending play that left the top scorers from both teams on the floor.
Southern is going to the NCAA for the eighth time overall, and first since 2006.
Jules Montgomery had a putback from Prairie View (15-19) with 1:16 left before Southern's Jameel Grace stepped out of bounds bringing the ball up the court. Carl Blair responded with a floating hook shot before another backcourt turnover led to Montrael Scott's floater that got the Panthers within a a point with 42 seconds left.
After a timeout, Southern used every bit of the shot clock before Grace missed a long 3-pointer.
Jourdan DeMuynck grabbed the rebound and drove the length of the court, but was out of control when the ball came loose as he tried to pass. DeMuynck fell to the floor under the basket, where he was next to Beltran when the buzzer sounded ending the game.
"Surprised they didn't call a timeout. We had to get back defensively," Beltran said. "The last play flashed before my eyes. Luckily, I was in the right position."
Two weeks earlier, Southern ended the regular season with a 22-point victory over the Panthers. The largest margin this time was seven points, the largest lead for both teams.
"I'm speechless right now. The disappointment is hitting me," Panthers coach Byron Rimm. "We were right there. Jourdan was half a foot from the basket to laying it up. I thought Jourdan was going to make the layup and win this game. Things like this happen."
DeMuynck had 15 points and nine rebounds for Prairie View, which made its only NCAA tournament appearance 15 years ago. He was coming off a career-high 37 in the semifinal game a night earlier against Prairie View.
Prairie View's women are going to the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row, and fifth time in seven seasons. The Lady Panthers outlasted Mississippi Valley State in four overtimes for the women's SWAC tournament title earlier Saturday on the same court.
Blair had 12 points and Montgomery scored eight points with 12 rebounds.
Beltran was the only player in double figures for Southern, which shot 33 percent (15 of 45) from the field.
Prairie View, which also shot 33 percent (17 of 51), tied the game six times after halftime, including DeMuynck's 3 to start the second-half scoring for a 22-all score. The Panthers went ahead only once.
Ryan Gesiakowski made a 3 to tie the score at 32 with 10:05 left, and Blair scored on a leaner off the glass to put Prairie View up 34-32. Yondarius Johnson then scored five points in a row for Southern, including the tying two free throws with just over 9 minutes left.
With 4:04 left, DeMuynck rebounded his own miss, and was fouled trying another shot. He missed the first free throw, but made the second for the game's eighth and final tie, 38-all.
Southern went ahead to stay on Brandon Moore's strong putback.
Right before Beltran's steal and layup, Grace had an inbound pass to Moore underneath the basket for a quick jumper to make it 43-38.
So when Beltran was on the floor when the game ended, was there more happiness or relief?
"It was more happiness because we worked so hard. This was a goal from day one," he said. "A lot of good teams are in positions like this. It was really emotional because of things we've been through as a program."