There were a few smiles and some hugs Saturday afternoon after the Prairie View men’s basketball team defeated Alcorn State to finish the turbulent regular-season as the three-time SWAC champions.
But that’s where the celebration ended.
As far as the Panthers are concerned the real work begins now as they embark up the tournament season that began this week in Birmingham, Ala. with the SWAC Tournament, and then hopefully a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“No disrespect to anyone but we don’t feel like nobody prepared the way we prepared. We don’t feel like nobody put in the time we’ve put in with this whole quarantine and dealing with the shutdowns that we’ve dealt with,” said junior guard Jawaun Daniels. “We are looking at is as we are 0-0 and we need to go 3-0 in Birmingham to get to the NCAA Tournament. We are locked in and have a different mindset right now.”
Much of that has to do with the challenging stop-and-start season the Panthers have endured to even get to this point due to the pandemic all sports are trying to play through. Prairie View experienced a few shutdowns because of COVID-19 protocol, the most recent being a 20-day stoppage in the middle of the league schedule.
But the Panthers were able to finish what they started to end the regular-season 13-0 in SWAC play and share the title with also undefeated Jackson State, which went 11-0. The two undefeated league teams had both of their head-to-head games canceled due to COVID-19 protocol.
“It’s been super difficult. At the beginning of this year, I kind of made a statement to everyone that the people who can adjust best to this thing are going to be successful,” said Panthers coach Byron Smith, whose team also went 14-4 overall. “Obviously, you have all of the safety and health protocols which are a challenge on you. You are social distancing, wearing the masks. So, your life changes so much because you can’t do normal things or go places. It’s been a heck of a challenge.”
The Panthers made it through with talent and depth. After winning the regular-season last year but not being able to play the tournament season because of the pandemic outbreak, Smith brought in eight new players this season, including former Nebraska star point guard Cam Mack.
The old has been able to mesh with the new members to give Prairie View the depth that can make them dangerous this tournament season. The Panthers have four players ranked in the SWAC’s Top 25 in scoring with Daniels at No.6 with 16.2 points, while Mack is averaging 12.1 points and is second in the nation in assists per game with 8.2 dimes per game.
“I feel like guys bought in early,” Daniels said. “We don’t have beef with each other. We all love each other on and off the court. I guess it pretty much meshed from there.”
Now it’s about going as deep as their collective talent will take them.
“We are starving, we are hungry,” Daniels said. “We self-manifested all year, undefeated in conference, the SWAC tournament and then on to the Big Dance.”
Prairie View at a Glance
Record: 14-4 (overall), 13-0 (in SWAC)
Coach: Byron Smith
Leading Scorer: Jawaun Daniels, 16.2 points
Leading Assists: Cam Mack, 8.4 assists
No. 2 in scoring offense 70.6 points per game
No. 2 in scoring defense 63.4 points per game