Southern Miss overcomes slow start to edge UTSA

By FROM SOUTHERN MISS,

HATTIESBURG – It could not have gotten much worse the first 10 minutes for the Golden Eagle men's basketball team, trailing 21-8 to the top-scoring team in Conference USA. 

But a 53-23 spurt over the next 20, as well as some timely free-throws and defense, led to a 78-71 victory over second-place UTSA (15-11, 9-4 C-USA) on Thursday night. With the victory, Southern Miss (16-9, 8-5 C-USA) matched its win total from last year and continued its perfect improvement trend of league wins over a five-year span (3-5-6-7-8).

It also marked the fifth-straight victory and eighth win out of the last 10 games.

"We beat a very good basketball team," head coach Doc Sadler said. "We got off to a slow start, showed some toughness and got the lead back at halftime. That's what seniors do. They flip the switch on their own, so you have to like that."

Seniors Cortez Edwards (24 points, nine rebounds) and Tyree Griffin (18 points, six rebounds) helped provide the backcourt punch on both ends, while Leonard Harper-Baker collected his fourth double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds).

Kevin Holland, who entered the night 3-for-5 on the year for free-throws, made four in a row over the final four minutes of the half to help rally Southern Miss out of the hole. Gabe Watson's corner three-pointer before the halftime buzzer gave Southern Miss a 32-31 lead, its 23rd time in the last 25 home games it has been on top at the break. LaDavius Draine also hit a triple in similar fashion during Saturday's win over LA Tech.

Southern Miss made 10 of its first 13 shot attempts of the second half, but after an Edwards jumper at 11:13, went without a field goal for the next 5:46 until Edwards hit another shot to make it a 66-60 lead. UTSA got within 67-64 at 4:11, but Draine hit his only three-pointer of the night to expand the margin. Griffin's two free-throws with 42 seconds left upped the lead to 76-68, and the Roadrunners missed a three-pointer from the mid-court logo that would have gotten them within 77-74 at the 19-second mark.

"The crowd in the second half was great," Sadler said. "You could hear the energy and enthusiasm and it got the players going. Overall, UTSA's a game out of first place and you have to be happy to beat a team like that and move up the ladder. We've got another big game on Saturday, so hopefully, everyone's taken out their valentine and is ready for it."

Southern Miss hosts UTEP at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday for the final game of pod play.

NOTABLE

-The home team has won all 10 meetings in the series.

-This marked UTSA's fewest points in 11 games (Jan. 5 at UTEP). The Roadrunners entered the night averaging 97.5 points over its previous four contests and 85.3 ppg in C-USA play.

-The Golden Eagles shot 59.3 percent in the second half, and out-rebounded its opponent (41-40) for the fifth consecutive game, extending the best streak of the Sadler era.

-Cortez Edwards posted his 18th-career, 20-point game. It's also his third in a row.

-Edwards passed Rich Corsetto and tied John White for No. 20 on the all-time scoring list (1,331 points).

-Edwards is also now No. 10 in program history for assists, with 347.

-His three steals also helped him pass Casey Fisher (1984-88) for second-place in school history (185). Next up is Curtis Green (1980-84) with 193.

-Tyree Griffin's five assists give him 369 for his career, which ranks ninth.