HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It was hard to tell Thursday night who was happier about the return of Khari Price to the basketball court: the senior point guard himself or his University of Southern Mississippi teammates.
Price, who had missed the Golden Eagles' first 13 games of the season while recovering from preseason surgery on his left knee, played 31 minutes and scored a career-high 20 points as the Golden Eagles snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 77-59 Conference USA victory over visiting University of Texas-San Antonio at Green Coliseum.
"Man, I missed him," said forward Quinton Campbell, who matched Price's 20 points in USM's largest offensive output against Division I competition this season. "I was telling most of the guys this is his homecoming. He just brings a lot of energy every day. Even when he wasn't practicing, he was coming over, talking to us, and I just knew it was going to transfer from practice onto the court, and it did."
One game does not a season make, nor one person a basketball team create, but Price's return not only was reflected in the box score but also allowed teammates to shift to more natural roles.
Guard Cortez Edwards, who had handled the bulk of the ball-handling, press-breaking duties with Price sidelined, posted his first collegiate double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He also had two assists and two of the Golden Eagles' five steals.
"It's hard to put everything on one guy," USM coach Doc Sadler said. "But you could see the confidence in this basketball team the minute that Khari was going to play. You could just see the confidence."
Price, a 5-foot-9 native of Slidell, Louisiana, who transferred after two seasons at the University of Dayton, started all 29 games in 2015-16 in his first season at USM, averaging 9.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game.
After the surgery in early October, Price returned to practice "about two or three weeks ago."
"I just got to the point where I got comfortable enough to play in a game, play at game speed," Price said. "I guess I was right."
Perhaps fittingly, Price was the last Golden Eagle to touch the basketball on both offense and defense Thursday night, knocking down a 3-pointer with 15.2 seconds to play and then corralling the final rebound of the game.
"I have a passion and true love for this game," Price said. "And not being able to play, and seeing my brothers go through the pain of the losses, the losing streak, it hurt me, like it hurt them. I just wanted to come back and help them get a win, and we did that."
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