Junior guard Tyree Griffith posted a double-double in his first game as a Golden Eagle Friday as the University of Southern Mississippi opened the season with a 79-69 victory over Southern University of New Orleans at Green Coliseum.
USM (1-0) led 71-44 before the Knights (0-1) spent the final 9 minutes of the game at Green Coliseum whittling down the deficit.
USM coach Doc Sadler had mixed feelings about his team’s opener.
“I think we can score points,” Sadler said, “but until we can get into a mentality to be as committed defensively as we need to be and eliminate mental mistakes on the defensive end, we won’t be at our best.
“We have a few days, and that’s what the non-conference season is for. You do all those things and get them corrected, so that by the end of December, you are a good defensive team.”
For Griffin, Friday marked the second double-double of his career. His first came in his last game with OSU, when he score 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Kansas State University in the 2016 Big 12 Tournament.
His 13 rebounds equaled the season high by any Golden Eagle from a game last season.
Another USM newcomer, junior guard Dominic Mage, added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles.
Griffin transferred from Oklahoma State University. Magee played at Grand Canyon University last season. Both sat out USM’s 2016-17 season.
Sophomore forward Tim Rowe, who played just eight games last year before a season-ending injury, scored 10 points Friday. Junior guard Cortez Edwards also scored 10 points.
USM went to the free-throw line 45 times Friday, the most trips in a game since 2008 against the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Magee earned 16 shots at the line. The Golden Eagles sank 30 free throws, knocking down 66.7 percent of their attempts.
SUNO senior forward D’ante Russell-Harte led the Knights with 13 points, while senior swingman Marcel Daniels added 12 points.
USM led 40-27 at the half.
“Any time it’s the first game of the year, you aren’t gonna be as good as you need to be,” Sadler said. “The thing we have to understand is that the faster the ball moves, the better team we are.
“When the ball starts sticking in your hands, the defense can make adjustments. I thought in the second half, (our) defense made better adjustments, and we were able to get easier baskets.”
USM will head to the University of Michigan for a 6 p.m. tipoff Thursday. The Golden Eagles return home for a 7 p.m. game on Nov. 20 with Blue Mountain College.