HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ After seeing games slip from their grasp in the final minutes of play, the University of Southern Mississippi did what it needed to do Thursday night against visiting Middle Tennessee State.
After seeing a double-digit lead shrink to six points with 2 minutes, 54 seconds, to play, the Golden Eagles held off the Blue Raiders, rebuilding the lead back to double digits before settling for a 77-70 Conference USA victory at Reed Green Coliseum.
Senior point guard Tyree Griffin tied his season high with 21 points and handed out seven assists as USM (9-7, 1-3 C-USA) snapped a three-game losing streak while opening their home conference schedule with a win.
Sophomore wing LaDavius Draine hit 6-of-8 shots and finished with 14 points while freshman guard Gabe Watson made 4-of-6 shots and finished with 12 points as the Golden Eagles’ bench outscored MTSU’s 26-10.
MTSU junior guard Antonio Greene, who led the Blue Raiders with 19.3 points a game, dealt with senior guard Cortez Edwards much of the night and finished 3-of-14 ad 10 points.
Sophomore guard Donovan Sims stepped into the vacuum and poured in a career-high 28 points, hitting 12-of-16 shots from the floor, including 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. MTSU junior forward Reggie Scurry added 15 points for the Blue Raiders (3-13, 0-3).
But it was not enough for MTSU to avoid dropping its 12th game in a row.
USM never trailed in the game. A 33-25 halftime lead grew to 16 points on a Griffin 3-pointer with 15:29 to play.
The Golden Eagles still led 65-54 on a Draine layup with 4:26 to play before Scurry hit a pair of free throws and Sims dropped in a trey to get within 65-59 with 2:29 to play.
But Griffin came up big, again, hitting a pair of free throws, and senior guard Kevin Holland swished a 3-pointer to push USM’s lead back to 11 points with 1:42 to play.
The Blue Raiders got within eight on three occasions, and then created the final deficit a on buzzer-beating 3-pointer by senior forward James Hawthorne of Prentiss, who came off the bench for seven points and four rebounds.
USM will remain at home, welcoming the University of Alabama-Birmingham at 4 p.m. Saturday at Green Coliseum.