HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi shot 84.6 percent from the free-throw line to outscore the University of South Alabama down the stretch for a 71-67 victory Wednesday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
Trailing 59-56 after a four-point play by USA senior guard Rodrick Sikes of Ocean Springs, USM (5-2) made 11-of-13 free throws in a 15-8 run over the game’s final 7 minutes, 40 seconds to defeat the visiting Jaguars (3-4) for the first time in three seasons.
USM led by as many as 16 points in the first half before USA closed to 43-37 at the break.
The teams battled through the first 10 minutes of the second half, with the Jaguars using the 3-point shot to get within a possession of the lead, only to see USM pad its advantage.
Sikes' 3-pointer at the 10:13 mark tied the game 54-54 and the Jaguars went up by a point on a foul shot by junior forward Josh Ajayi.
Two free throws by sophomore wing LaDavius Draine put USM back in from 56-55, but Draine fouled Sikes on a 3-point shot and the four-point swing left USA up 59-56 with 7:40 to go.
Junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker’s jumper in the lane got the Golden Eagles within 59-58, and Draine’s two free throws following a Jaguars’ turnover gave USM the lead for good, 60-59, with 4:24 left in the game.
USM would not trail again.
Senior guard Cortez Edwards hit a free throw and senior Tyree Griffin got a layup shortly after to push USM’s 63-59.
The last of eight 3-pointers by senior guard Kory Holden got the Jaguars back within a point, but Harper-Baker converted a three-point play and then added two more free throws to put USM ahead 68-62 with 33 seconds left in the game.
Griffin countered a 3-pointer by junior guard Jordan Andrews with a free throw to keep USM ahead 69-65, and after a Holden jumper got USA to with 69-67 with 11 seconds to go, Griffin dropped in two free throws with 9 seconds left for the final margin.
USA stumbled down the stretch, making just three shots on eight attempts in its last 10 possessions, including three turnovers.
For the game, USM came up with 17 turnovers, eight on steals, while committing only five.
Edwards led USM with 19 points, three steals, two assists, two rebounds and two blocked shots. Griffin had 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Harper-Baker had 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and the foul line, while posting a game-high nine rebounds with three blocked shots and two assists.
Holden, who made 10-of-19 shots, including 8-of-10 from 3-point range, scored a game-high 28 points, but also committed eight turnovers, including three in the final 5 minutes.
Sikes finished with 14 points and junior forward Trhae Mitchell had seven rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists.
USM will host Rust College at 2 p.m. Sunday at Green Coliseum.