HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After watching William Carey University run out to a nine-point lead in the first half Sunday afternoon, the University of Southern Mississippi seemed to have righted itself against its crosstown rival.
By halftime, USM, had overtaken the Crusaders of the smaller National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and carried a 10-point lead through the first five minutes of the second half.
But just as it seemed the Golden Eagles were prepared to take flight, Carey stepped forward and, quite literally, shot that idea down.
The Crusaders made eight, 3-point baskets over the back half of the second half, including four in the final 6 minutes, 13 seconds, of the game as Carey shocked the Golden Eagles 78-72 before a sparse gathering at Reed Green Coliseum.
“We shot it, and we got it to our shooters in the right spot,” said Carey coach Steve Knight after his Crusaders beat the Golden Eagles for the second time in four years. “We’ve been changing offenses, trying to find what will work right for us because I’ve got such a new team.”
Sunday, the drive-and-kick to shooters on the perimeter worked just fine, as the Crusaders hit 46,4 percent of their 3-point attempts (13-of-28) on their way to shooting nearly 50 percent (48.3 percent) from the floor overall.
“We couldn’t stop the penetration,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “We couldn’t guard their guards, and that’s because either we weren’t ready to play or because their guards are better than our guards.
“It’s one of the two, and (Sunday), bottom line, their guards were better than our guards and they won the ballgame.”
Few shots were bigger than the 3-pointers made 28 seconds apart by Carey guards Dalen Dotson and Brandon Cranford that erased a five-point USM lead and the Crusaders (3-3) ahead 68-67 with 5:45 to play.
Carey never trailed again.
Twice, USM cut the lead to two points with chances to tie or take the lead.
But the Golden Eagles (4-2), who missed 11 of their final 12 shots, simply could not find the range on their home floor. USM shot 37.1 percent for the game, 30.8 percent from 3-point range and only 64.3 percent from the foul line.
A straightaway 3-pointer by forward Leito Holloway with the clock shot running down pushed Carey’s lead back to 75-70 with 1:34 to play.
USM guard Tyree Griffin, who scored a game-high 16 points, high-banked in a drive down the right side of the lane, but those were the Golden Eagles’ final points and the Crusaders finished off the game from the free-throw line.
Since road wins at Southern Methodist University and Troy University, Sadler said the Golden Eagles have gotten away from the way it needs to play to be successful.
“We haven’t played a good basketball game since,” Sadler said. “For our team to be successful, we have to play with a passion and an edge, and we’re just not doing it.
“We can’t score inside if our perimeter guys don’t have an edge about them. You get up 10 and then you come down and take some bad shots, make some bad shot selections, and you’re not even trying to get the ball inside to get a basket or get a foul and go to the free-throw line.
“We’re settling for jump shots. We shot 26 jump shots against that basketball team right there that doesn’t even have a post player, and they want to shoot 26 threes. You know, you hit 27 (threes) in two games, and all of sudden, we think we’re a three-point shooting team, and that’s not what we are.”
Griffin added six rebounds and six assists for USM. Cortez Edwards had 12 points and six rebounds and forward Leonard Harper-Baker had nine points and a game–high 12 rebounds.
Carey put five players in double figures including 12 points from guard Ryan McRaney. Holloway, Cranford, guard Javontae McDavid and forward Branden Sheppard each added 11 points.
Sheppard finished with a team-high eight rebounds and point guard Adrian Williams had eight points, five rebounds and five assists.
“It’s a new team, but I think we have a chance to be a good team,” Knight said. “And I know it’s easier to be a good team when shots are going in.
“I think this (win) will give our guys a boost.”