The Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Thursday night boosted their chances for a top-five finish in Conference USA with a 78-71 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners.
Trailing by 13 points early in the game at Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Golden Eagles rallied behind guards Cortez Edwards and Tyree Griffin and forward Leonard Harper-Baker for their fifth straight win.
In the second half, Southern Miss built a 17-point lead, only to have UTSA cut it to three in the final minutes.
But, in response, Harper-Baker and Edwards scored on field goals inside of two minutes, and then Griffin hit both ends of a one-and-one with 42 seconds left for the key plays down the stretch.
Edwards led Southern Miss with 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting. He also had 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
Even though Keaton Wallace scored 27 and Jhivvan Jackson 25 for the Roadrunners, the Golden Eagles made them earn it, holding the tandem to a combined 15 of 41 from the field.
Jackson entered the game as the C-USA’s leading scorer and Wallace was third. It didn’t matter in the end, as UTSA remained winless in Hattiesburg at 0-6, including 0-3 under third-year coach Steve Henson.
UTSA will complete a two-game road trip Saturday at Louisiana Tech.
UTSA 15-11, 9-4
Southern Miss 16-9, 8-5
Old Dominion 10-3, Western Kentucky 9-4, UTSA 9-4, North Texas 8-5, Southern Miss 8–5.
Trailing 23-10 early, Southern Miss went on an extended run. The Golden Eagles finished the first half, 22-8, to take a one-point intermission lead. They kept applying the pressure after the break, riding a 29-13 streak to a 61-44 lead. Griffin, a 5-10 senior from New Orleans, scored 11 in the stretch.
‘We got off to a good start, really were guarding ’em in the halfcourt … First half was about turnovers. Every time we made a turnover, they scored. They didn’t have anything going in the halfcourt. In the second half, they scored trip after trip after trip. Built the lead. Just whooped us,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told the team’s radio broadcast.
Added Henson: “They beat our man. They beat our 3-2. They beat our 2-3. We didn’t have any other defenses to go to. Finally responded a little bit. Cut into the lead. Took better care of the ball in the second half. Big thing was, turnovers in the first half and them whoopin’ us and kinda punkin’ us there in the second half.”
After Saturday’s games, the conference will divide teams into three groups and start bonus play. Teams will play four games within their groups to complete the regular season. Details on the groupings and the schedule will be announced Saturday night. Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and UTSA are solidified in the top group.