HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi came into Thursday night's Conference USA men's basketball throwdown with Old Dominion University unbeaten in nine home games at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Monarchs had not lost in five conference road games.
Something had to give, and USM did in the final 15 minutes of the game.
ODU erased an 11-point deficit with a 13-0 run over a 4:11 span of the second half, and after swapping leads four more times, finally seized the lead for good with less than 4 ½ minutes to play and then held off the Golden Eagles down the stretch to claim a 68-63 victory.
It was the closest loss of the season for the Golden Eagles after the Monarchs rallied for their 13th win in the last 15 games.
"We played hard, but we just did not get it done," USM coach Doc Sadler said. "We just came up short."
USM (12-13, 5-7 C-USA) led by as many as 11 points in the first half and had a 48-37 lead with 15:53 to play after senior guard D'Angelo Richardson hit two free throws after ODU junior forward Trey Porter had been hit with a technical foul.
The Golden Eagles would go scoreless for nearly the next five minutes.
ODU (18-5, 9-2) got six points on two 3-pointers by freshman guard Marquise Godwin and four points from senior forward Brandan Stith over the next four minutes, and sophomore guard Ahmad Caver capped the 13-0 run with a 3-pointer as ODU took its first lead of the game since the opening possession of the game.
"When you are playing the best team in the league, and I think they are the best team in our league, you can't play for 39 minutes, can't play for 30 minutes," Sadler said. "You have to play for the entire 40 minutes, and I thought when we got up, we relaxed on the defensive end.
"You just cannot do that, and I'm disappointed that we have not learned that you have to play every possession like it's the last possession of the game."
A tip-in by USM sophomore forward Tim Rowe tied the game, and a 3-pointer by junior guard Tyree Griffin gave the Golden Eagles a 53-50 lead with 10:08 to play.
After an ODU basket in the lane, Griffin connected on another trey for a 56-52 USM lead.
But the Monarchs rallied, and a 3-pointer by junior guard B.J. Stith put ODU back on top, 57-56, 5:12 to go.
Junior guard Cortez Edwards scored at the end of an extended USM possession, converting a three-point play with a foul shot after scoring down low, putting the Golden Eagles ahead for the final time, 59-57.
But Godwin, who had hit only a trio of 3-pointers all season, knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game to put the Monarchs ahead for good, 60-59, with 4:19 to play.
Twice, USM would cut the deficit to one point down the stretch, but the Stith brothers each answered with baskets to push the lead back to three and the Golden Eagles could not hit a game-tying 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play.
After shooting 72.7 percent in the first half, the Golden Eagles hit just 31.0 percent of their field goal attempts in the second half.
"We just didn't make shots," Sadler said. "I liked the looks we were getting, but we just did not make shots."
Edwards led USM with 18 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Dominic Magee, who scored 11 points in the first half, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Griffin added 12 points, six rebounds and a game-high eight assists, while Rowe scored 10 points to finish in double figures for the first time since the Nov. 10 season opener against Southern University-New Orleans.
B.J. Stith led ODU with a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds, while Godwin went 4-of-5 beyond the 3-point arc to finish with 12 points.
Caver added 11 points and seven assists, while Brandan Stith had 10 points and five rebounds. Senior guard Randy Haynes finished with a game-high nine rebounds.
USM will host the University of North Carolina-Charlotte at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum.