WICHITA, KS (WDAM) _ After roaring back from a 17-point hole early in the second half with an improbable rally, the University of Southern Mississippi dropped a 63-60 decision Saturday night to Wichita State University in an implausible fashion.
Trailing by three points with 2 seconds to play, USM junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker found himself at the free-throw line, shooting three shots, with a chance to tie the game.
Except Harper-Baker shouldn’t have been there
USM senior guard Tyree Griffin, who had been in the middle of the Golden Eagles’ second-half rally, had been the player fouled in the act of s hooting a 3-pointer. But Griffin was injured while being fouled by Samajae Haynes-Jones, and the 68.8 percent free-throw shooter was unable to take his shots.
Per NCAA rules, Wichita State was allowed to choose Griffin’s replacement to shoot the free throws and selected Harper-Baker, a 57.7 percent free-throw shooter, who missed the first two, and then tried to carom the third off the back rim for a last-second shot.
It was a unexpectedly heartbreaking finish to a game that the Golden Eagles didn’t appear to have any reason in the world to worry about losing down the stretch.
That’s because USM spent most of the game’s first 30 minutes shooting itself out of Intrust Bank Arena, as the taller and bulkier Shockers (6-4), who out-rebounded 48-31 on the evening, repeatedly limiting the Golden Eagles to just one shot per possession.
And for the first 30 minutes, numerous, one-shots were flying free, with USM shooting less than 30 percent from the floor.
But Griffin sparked a 17-3 run that got the Golden Eagles back within striking distance as the game hung in the balance down the stretch.
A driving layup by senior guard Dominic Magee brought the Golden Eagles (7-3) all the way back, putting USM ahead 60-59 with 53 seconds to play.
But after a timeout, forward Jamie Echenique slammed home an alley-oop pass from guard Ricky Torres as Wichita regained the lead, and then tacked on two free throws in the final seconds.
Senior Cortez Edwards led the Golden Eagles with 15 points and seven rebounds. After missing his first eight shots, Griffin finished with 12 points, a game-high eight assists and five rebounds. Magee had 10 points and four rebounds.
Echenique recorded the first double-double of his career with 18 points and 11 rebounds and also added four assists.
Markis McDuffie scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Hayne-Jones added 11 points.
The Golden Eagles will stay on the road, traveling to Manhattan, Kansas at 7 p.m. Wednesday to take on Kansas State University.