HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ In a streaky game of double-digit runs Thursday night at Reed Green Coliseum, the University of Southern Mississippi had more than enough juice left in the tank to hold off the University of Texas-San Antonio in the end.
Senior guard Cortez Edwards scored 24 points, senior guard Tyree Griffin added 18 and junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker finished with his fourth, double-double of the season as the Golden Eagles held off the Roadrunners 78-71.
USM (16-9, 8-5 C-USA) won its fifth consecutive game and for the eighth time in 10 games. The Roadrunners (15-11, 9-4), who had come into Hattiesburg just a half-game behind league-leading Old Dominion University, lost for the just the second time in six games and the fourth time in 14 games.
“Proud of ‘em,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “We came out with no energy, but we hung in there, and finally got ourselves going.”
After making just four of its first 17 shots, the Golden Eagles found themselves trailing 23-10 about 12 minutes into the game.
“Early, the shots just weren’t falling,” said Harper-Baker, who scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to log his third double-double in his last six games and fourth on the season overall.
But USM’s offense finally sparked, as the Golden Eagles outscored UTSA 22-8 the remainder of the first half. Freshman guard Gabe Watson scored USM’s final five points before the break, including a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to play that left the Golden Eagles holding a 32-31 edge.
“I told them that since we had worked so hard to get there (the lead), let’s not give it back,” Sadler said.
USM did just that, pushing the lead out to 17 points, 61-44, on an Edwards’ jumper with 11:13 to play in the game.
But the Golden Eagles’ chilly shooting touch from the start of the game returned. USM went 5:48 without a basket during a 20-6 run by UTSA that got the Roadrunners within 67-64 with 4:11 left in the game.
But after each team missed 3-point attempts, USM sophomore wingman LaDavius Draine swished a 22-footer off the left wing to put the Golden Eagles ahead 70-64 with 2:35 to.
After UTSA sophomore guard Keaton Wallace hit two free throws, Harper-Baker and Edwards knocked down jump shots to give USM an eight-point edge, 74-66, with 1:09 to play.
UTSA would get no closer than five points down the stretch, as Griffin and Harper-Baker each made a pair of free throws.
For the fifth consecutive game, the Golden Eagles won the battle of the boards, outrebounding UTSA 41-40. In addition to Harper-Baker’s 12, Edwards finished with nine, Draine had seven and Griffin six.
“Our guards had to come in and help rebound,” Harper-Baker said. “Draine came in and had seven rebounds, so that was big.”
Edwards moved into second place on USM’s all-time steals list with three takeaways Thursday. He also had five assists and blocked two shots. Griffin also handed out five assists.
UTSA got a game-high 27 points from Keaton Wallace, who was 4-of-13 from 3-point range, but knocked down 11-of-12 free throws. Sophomore guard Jhivvan Jackson, the leading scorer in C-USA at 22.7 points per game, added 25 points.
The Golden Eagles will host the University of Texas-El Paso at 2 p.m. Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum.