HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ Reed Green Coliseum has seen its share of lopsided scoreboards over some four decades or so of basketball.
But Saturday afternoon, well, Saturday afternoon was different, a little of the double-taking, am-I-looking-at-that-right kind of look.
At halftime, the University of Southern Mississippi had scored 54 points against the University of Texas-El Paso.
The Miners had 12.
“No, I’ve never been in a game like that,” USM senior point guard Tyree Griffin said. “Well, besides that Marshall game.”
Ah. True enough, the Golden Eagles blitzed the Thundering Herd on Jan. 26 in the first half, leading by 17 before holding Marshall to just 20 second-half points in a 101-51 rout.
But Saturday was, well, different.
USM (17-9, 9-5 Conference USA) shot 65.6 percent from the floor in the first half, scored 21 baskets on 13 assists, ripping off runs of 21-0 and 29-2
UTEP (8-17, 3-11) shot 16.7 percent (4-of-24) from the floor in the first half, had nine turnovers to one assist and got out-rebounded 23-11.
Different, as USM’s regulars were on the bench with around the 10-minute mark of the second half, up by 50 points, before the Golden Eagles claimed a 77-47 victory in the end.
Sophomore swingman LaDavius Draine made five consecutive 3-pointers in that first half, six all told, on his way to a career-high 24 points.
Junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker already had 10 points and seven rebounds. Griffin had eight points, seven assists, five rebounds.
“Never saw that coming,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “Coming into the game, I thought UTEP was a team that defensively had been playing really, really well. The way they guarded, I knkew we were going to have make some shots, and we did make some, and then it just started snowballing.
“The biggest thing defensively, over the last fiev, six, seven games, whatever it’s been, our team has started believing in the way we’ve been playing.”
USM won its sixth consecutive game and for the ninth time in 11 games and clinched third seed among the league’s top five teams.
Now, the Golden Eagles will end the regular season in a five-team “pod” that includes C-USA’s top five.. USM will have away games at Old Dominion University and Western Kentucky University, while hosting the University of Alabama-Birmingham and University of Texas-San Antonio.
USM will return the court at 2 p.m. Saturday, hosting UAB.
Saturday, Draine finished 7-of-9 from 3-point range, adding a blocked shot and two steals to his stat line.
“My confidence is just through the roof right now,” Draine said. “I knew when I made the first one, there were a lot more coming.”
Griffin finished with 12 points, eight assists, four steals and five rebounds in 26 minutes. Harper-Baker wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
“We’re playing for a championship,” Griffin said. “We’re not trying to lose any game, no matter what the record is. We’re just going to come and try and win the game.
“We’re not done yet. We’ve got a lot more to do.”
UTEP had three players in double figures, with guard Nigel Hawkins scoring 15 points, Efe Odiigie getting a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds and Gilles Dekoninck adding 10 points and seven rebounds.