HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ With about 33 seconds to play Saturday evening at Reed Green Coliseum, University of Southern Mississippi freshman guard Gabe Watson started a two-on-one fast break downcourt, finding junior forward Boban Jacdonmi slanting in from the left wing.
The play not only rattled the rim but brought the crowd back to its feet one last time, as the Golden Eagles put an exclamation point on a 101-51, feel-good romp over Marshall University.
USM (12-9, 4-5 Conference USA) snapped a two-game conference skid by handing Marshall (12-9, 5-3) its third loss of the Herd’s recent three-game road trip.
“We knew they were on a long road trip, so we knew we had to come out with more energy, a lot more energy than we came out with Thursday,” said USM senior guard Kevin Holland, who was one of five Golden Eagles to score 11 points or more.
“We got off to a good start and never took our foot off the pedal.”
Nope. In fact, Saturday marked the most points this season by USM not only in conference play but against Division I competition, as the Golden Eagles shot 64.6 percent from the floor, tying a season high with 13 made 3-pointers.
But perhaps even more pleasing to USM coach Doc Sadler was a Golden Eagles’ defense that limited Marshall to nearly 30 points less than its 80.7 points-per-game average.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well Thursday night (in a loss to Western Kentucky University), and (Saturday), we shoot it like crazy,” Sadler said. “But the key (Saturday), was our defense. To hold them to (51) points is crazy.”
- USM opened both halves of the game en fuego
The Golden Eagles made eight of their first nine shots to open the game, including a trio of treys, and jump out to a 19-5 lead. In the second half, USM made 10 of its first 13 shots, including 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line, taking a 73-36 lead and erasing any smidge of a doubt about the Herd thundering back into the game.
- The Golden Eagles knocked down 13 treys, tying a season high
Sophomore LaDavius Draine, who hit five 3-pointers against WKU, added four more Saturday. Holland tied a season high with four treys of his own.
- Maybe not so crazy, senior guards Tyree Griffin and Cortez Edwards both underscored their importance to the Golden Eagles’ welfare, though a few of their statistics were crazy good
After combining for 13 assists and 16 points while shooting 7-of-25 from the floor in the loss to WKU Thursday, Griffin and Edwards combined for 24 points, 25 assists and six steals against the Herd.
Griffin hit only 3-of-9 shots, but two of them were 3-pointers as he finished with nine points. His career-high 15 assists were the third most by a Golden Eagle for a single game, trailing only Casey Fisher (17) and Neil Watson (16).
Edwards went 6-of-6 from the floor, 2-of-2 from the free-throw line, scoring 15 points and handing out a career-high-tying 10 assists. He also made four steals and grabbed six rebounds.
It marked the third time in Edwards’ career he had dished out 10 assists and was the second time he had posted a double-double in points and assists in a game.
- USM outrebounded Marshall 46-28
Crazy. The Golden Eagles rarely outrebound anyone, let alone D-I competition. It marked just the third time this season that USM had grabbed more rebounds than an opponent, and the 18-rebound edge was by far its largest of the season.
- Marshall shot 25.0 percent from the floor, 20 percent from 3-point range
The crazy in this case is that the Herd still triggered 60 shots from floor (making only 15), including 35 from 3-point range (making seven).
Marshall came into the game shooting 45.0 percent from the floor, including 33.5 percent from 3-point range.
- An unexpected catalyst: junior forward Tim Rowe
The 6-foot-6 postman went down low for USM’s first basket of the game and then four out of the next six, scoring all of his 11 points in the first 4 minutes, 11 seconds of the game. Rowe also would grab two rebounds.
“Tim had that energy that we wanted to come with,” Holland said. “Him scoring around the basket early I think it just opened up the floor,” Holland said.
Another major force early and near the basket was junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker, who hit 7-of-9 shots and finished with a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
It marked back-to-back double-double games from the 6-foot-6 Harper-Baker, who has hauled down 43 rebounds in USM’s past three games.
Marshall got 11 points apiece from senior guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks and sophomore forward Darius George.
Rowe opened the game with a blue-collar basket from short range before a Burks' jumper tied the game.
That proved to be Marshall’s high-water mark for the day in a game that the Herd never led and was tied for all of 28 seconds.
Harper-Baker scored in the post, followed by five points from Rowe, another bucket in the paint and then a 3-pointer from straight out front.
Griffin swished a 3-pointer before Marshall forward Jannson Williams found the range from long distance for his on;y basket of the game to get the Herd back within 12-5.
But Rowe scored twice in USM’s next three possessions before Holland hit a 3-pointer for a 19-5 lead by the Golden Eagles.
Marshall called a timeout, but to no avail. Harper-Baker scored three points, and before the Herd scored their next basket, Draine, Griffin and Holland had hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
USM led by 25 points with 11:34 left in the first half before settling for a 48-31 halftime lead before the pounding recommenced in the second half. USM led by as many as 53 points and had started swapping out starters about halfway through the half.
“Again, the thing I was most pleased with was when we were shooting the way we shot, we did not let the it affect the way we played defense,” Sadler said. “Obviously, everybody played well, but it all started with Tyree.”
USM will take to the road next week, visiting Florida International University at 6 p.m. Thursday in Miami.