VERMILLION, S.D. (WDAM) - After suffering two heart-breaking losses at the front end of a six-game road trip, the University of Southern Mississippi stayed the course in a 66-60 victory over the University of South Dakota.
Senior guard Cortez Edwards recorded the 11th double-double of his career with 14 points and 11 rebounds, becoming just the 14th Golden Eagle to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and hand out 200 assists in a career.
Edwards was in the middle of a USM effort on both ends of the court as the Golden Eagles (8-4) avenged a 13-point loss to the Coyotes last season by handing South Dakota (6-7) just its fifth home-court loss in the past three seasons.
With the win, USM is off to the best start in USM Coach Doc Sadler’s five seasons at the helm and eased some of the sting of consecutive losses to start the current road swing. The Golden Eagles came up three points short at Wichita State University and four points shy at Kansas State University.
"Overall, it was a great team win for us,” Sadler said. “It’s been a long week, but I could not be more proud of our basketball team, especially the last seven-eight minutes (Friday night).
“We showed some toughness and had some guys step up for big shots.”
Senior guard Kevin Holland scored nine points on a trio of treys, two in the second half, including one at the 10-minute, 57-second mark, that gave USM the lead for the first time since the late in the first half.
After South Dakota regained the lead, junior center Tim Rowe’s bucket in the paint gave the Golden Eagles the lead for good.
A 7-0 run lifted USM into 58-50 lead with 3:52 to play. The Coyotes got within four points before Edwards scored on a layup and sophomore wing LaDarius Draine dropped in a 3-pointer with 39 seconds to play to put USM ahead 63-54.
Sadler said Edwards, who joined Courtney Beasley (2006-09), Derrek Hamilton (1985-88) and John White (1985-88) on the 1,000-500-200-career list, has been a pillar since stepping on the court as freshman with the Golden Eagles.
"Cortez is one of those players who brings it every day, so you know he will be consistent," Sadler said. "I can't say I've ever seen him have a bad practice in four years, so therefore he will give you that effort each and every night.”
USM senior guard Tyree Griffin, who scored 12 points to go with four assists and two steals, finished off the game at the free-throw line, which, oddly, the Golden Eagles had visited until he hit 3-of-4 shots in the final 21 seconds.
According to sportsrefernce.com, USM became just the 26th team since the 2010-11 season to win a game when shooting four free throws or less while its opponent had at least 20 attempts.
South Dakota went 16-of-20 from the free-throw line, but shot just 35.3 percent from the floor.
USM shot 45.0 percent from the field, including 50 percent in the second half, stayed on the boards with the Coyotes (outrebounded 33-31) and committed just six turnovers in the game.
The Coyotes got a game-high 15 points, five rebounds and three assists from junior guard Triston Simpson, while junior guard Cody Kelley and sophomore guard Stanley Umude scored 11 points apiece. Sophomore guard Tyler Peterson handed out a game-high seven assists.
Rowe and Holland had nine points each for USM, with Rowe adding four rebounds and Holland grabbing five.
USM opens Conference USA competition at 4 p.m. Saturday, when the Golden Eagle visit Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La.
The Golden Eagles play their first three conference games on the road, with trips to Rice University (Jan. 3) and University of North Texas (Jan. 5) scheduled before returning home Jan. 10 to Reed Green Coliseum to face Middle Tennessee State University.