SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas - The Southern men’s basketball team never trailed Florida A&M on Friday afternoon, and for much of the second half, the Jaguars held a comfortable lead.
But their 64-61 victory didn’t come easily.
Southern watched a 15-point second-half advantage dwindle to three points in the final minute Friday at the South Padre Island Invitational, but Rattlers guard D’Andre Bullard missed a late 3-pointer, and the Jaguars’ Mike Celestin rebounded to seal the win.
“I knew it would be a long ballgame,” SU coach Roman Banks said. “This was a rivalry ballgame, and as teams, we both thought this was a winnable game. We had to learn how to win a game on the road, and I’m glad we did.”
It is the first nonconference road victory for Southern since Nov. 10, 2007, when the Jaguars opened the 2007-08 season with a 75-61 win at Southern Methodist.
SU (2-3) will face Northern Colorado at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the final day of the South Padre Invitational, which began at various host sites and wrapped up with eight teams playing two games apiece this weekend on the south Texas coast.
Southern was coming off a surprisingly close 59-53 loss at Providence on Tuesday - during which the Jaguars rallied to tie their Big East opponent with less than four minutes remaining, only to run out of steam toward the end.
Still, Banks said he didn’t expect Friday’s game against FAMU (0-5) to be a breeze.
“We had a lead, and I thought our guys were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Banks said. “I think we got very, very tight. I was hoping that going into the last (media) timeout that we’d have a six- or eight-point lead.”
The Jaguars were ahead by 15 points early in the second half, but only led by five, 58-53, with less than four minutes remaining.
Avery Moore hit a 3-pointer brought FAMU to within two, 58-56, with 2:36 left. But Quinton Doggett hit one free throw, and Celestin followed with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to put SU ahead 64-59 with 42 seconds remaining.
Moore scored on a layup to bring the Rattlers within three at 64-61, but Southern held FAMU scoreless over the final 31 seconds.
Four players scored in double figures for Southern, including Jameel Grace (15 points), Derick Beltran (13 points), Madut Bol (11 points) and Celestin (10 points).
Doggett added nine points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Jaguars, who shot 44 percent from the floor and went 18-for-23 at the free-throw line.
Moore led all scorers with 20 points for FAMU. Reggie Lewis added 14 points, and Jeremy Dean grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.