67 fouls mar SU win over Valley

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ITTA BENA, Miss. — Sixty-seven fouls were called. Ninety-seven free throws were attempted.

The game took 2 hours, 38 minutes to complete.

But even after squandering most of a 17-point lead Monday night, Southern was unflustered, surviving the boatload of whistles to score a 78-74 victory over Mississippi Valley State at the Harrison HPER Complex.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved in a game with 67 fouls,” Southern coach Roman Banks said.

In scoring its first win at Valley since the 2006-07 season, Southern bounced back from a 55-52 setback at Arkansas-Pine Bluff two nights earlier and kept pace with the Golden Lions atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference standings.

It happened on a night when the Jaguars (17-8, 11-2) and Delta Devils (4-19, 4-9) combined for 28 more fouls committed than baskets made.

Southern, which entered play as the SWAC’s top free-throw-shooting team, was 35-of-53 from the foul line. Valley went 30-of-44.

Southern committed 34 fouls. Valley had 33.

Midway through the second half, both teams were in the double bonus. Four players from Southern and one from Valley fouled out.

“I guess you just have to go with the referees’ tone,” Banks said. “At least we were able to work through something.”

Much of the night, it was hard to imagine Southern would need to keep making free throws — the Jaguars made seven in the final minute — to pull out a game they often controlled.

Southern led by 16 late in the first half and went to halftime sporting a 36-24 edge. The lead grew to 41-24 on a Javan Mitchell jumper with 16:52 to play.

But it took all 40 minutes to put Valley away.

The key sequence came after Matt Smith converted a basket-and-one — the second by Valley in the space of 35 seconds — to make it 67-66 with 1:27 left, and Beltran answered with one of his own on the other end.

Beltran, his uniform soaked in sweat, threw in a circus layup before taking a few deep breaths and coolly adding the free throw for a 70-66 lead.

Southern made six more free throws in the final minute to ice the win.

“Being able to win a close game on the road, it’s nice to see we can fight through it,” Banks said. “I think this could help us grow as a team.”

Mississippi Valley guard Davon Usher led all scorers with 25 points, going 13-of-17 from the free-throw line. Smith added 13.

Beltran scored 19 points for Southern and went 7-of-11 from the foul line. Mitchell was 10-of-13 from the line and finished with 18 points.