The previous time the University of Southern Mississippi and Middle Tennessee State University met on a basketball court, the Golden Eagles did not score a point in the game’s final 7 minutes, 15 seconds.
Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Conference USA Men’s Basketball Tournament, USM simply would not be denied.
After missing the final shot in regulation, the ninth-seeded Golden Eagles knocked down big baskets in overtime to outlast and upset the top-seeded Blue Raiders 71-68 at the Ford Center.
Junior guard Cortez Edwards, who matched his career-high with 29 points in Wednesday’s 69-68 opening-round victory over eighth-seeded Florida International University, scored a game-high 23 points Thursday.
Junior Dominic Magee added 12 points and nine rebounds and point guard Tyree Griffin had 11 points and six assists as USM moved into the semifinals of the conference tournament for the first time since 2013.
The Golden Eagles (16-17) will meet fourth-seeded Marshall University (22-10) at 12:30 p.m. Friday. The Thundering Herd defeated fifth-seeded University of Texas-San Antonio 95-81 in a Thursday night quarterfinals game.
USM lost twice to MTSU during the regular season, including a 72-62 loss on Feb. 15 at Reed Green Coliseum that saw the Golden Eagles go 0-for-11 from the floor with three turnovers over the final 7:15 of the game.
Thursday night, USM cashed a major payback check against C-USA’s best team.
The Golden Eagles hung through the first half, trailing 30-27 at the break, but took a 40-35 lead on consecutive 3-pointers by Magee, junior guard Kevin Holland and freshman swingman LaDavius Draine.
An Edwards 3-pointer pushed the lead out to 49-42 with 6:19 left in the game, but MTSU (24-7) came up with a 9-0 spurt to go up 51-49 with 3:41 to play.
Two free throws by sophomore forward Tim Rowe tied the game, but MTSU junior guard David Simmons gave MTSU a 53-51 lead with a jumper.
After Edwards’ tip-in tied the game at 53-53, a 3-pointer by MTSU sophomore point guard Tyrik Dixon left the Blue Raiders ahead 56-53.
Griffin and Holland hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push USM into a 59-56 lead with less than a minute to play before senior forward Nick King got MTSU within a point.
USM junior Eddie Davis made two free throws with 28 seconds to go put USM up 61-58 before senior guard Giddy Potts tied the game with his fourth 3-pointer with 18 seconds to play.
USM had the last shot, but Griffin’s off-balance 3-pointer from the right wing came up short.
Potts opened overtime with a layup to give MTSU its last lead, 63-61, but Edwards, who made 5-of-6 shots from3-point range, dropped in a trey for a 64-63 lead. After Magee followed with two free throws to bump the lead to 66-63, King made it a two-point game with a free throw for MTSU.
But Magee drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the left arch to give USM a 69-64 lead with 2:36 left in the extra period.
After Dixon got a tip-in to get MTSU back within 69-66, Griffin hit a free throw for a four-point edge. King’s layup with 1:44 made it 70-68, and neither team could score until senior guard D’Angelo Richardson made the second of two free-throw attempts with four seconds to play for the final margin.
MTSU had only a long, long shot, and Dixon’s desperation effort from just over half court was short, setting off a black-and-gold celebratory dogpile in the lane.
USM shot just 41.9 percent from the floor, but knocked down 13-of-25 from 3-point range and hit 12-of-16 free throws. The smaller and slighter Golden Eagles also hung with the Blue Raiders on the boards, with MTSU holding only a 32-30 rebounding edge.
USM came up with 10 steals as MTSU committed 17 turnovers. Magee led USM with three steals and Edwards, who finished with six rebounds and three assists, also had two steals.
King led MTSU with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Potts had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Golden Eagles had not reached the semifinals of a C-USA tournament since the 2013 tourney in Tulsa, Okla., when the Golden Eagles made it to the title game, only to fall in double overtime to the University of Memphis.