MIAMI, FL. (WDAM) _ With junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker providing the lead, the University of Southern Mississippi took its hot shooting touch on the road.
Harper-Baker knocked down 10-of-11 shots (91.1 percent) to score a career-high 21 points, and the Golden Eagles hit 59.4 percent from the floor Thursday night in a 89-73 Conference USA victory at Florida International University.
USM (13-9, 5-5 C-USA), which won for the fifth time in seven games, nearly made 60 percent of its shots for a second consecutive game. The Golden Eagles blistered Marshall University Saturday in Hattiesburg, hitting at a 64.6 percent clip in a 50-point victory.
Thursday, the Panthers (13-9, 4-5) hung around at Ocean Bank Convocation Center, in part, thanks to 13 baskets from 3-point range, including seven from FIU senior guard Willy Nunez Jr.
But USM proved to have much accurate firepower, with senior guards Tyree Griffin (6-of-10) and Cortez Edwards (8-of-16) each providing 18 points and freshman guard Gabe Watson (7-of-9) adding another 16.
Harper-Baker stuffed the box score Thursday for the Golden Eagles, adding five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. Griffin handed out a game-high seven assists to go with four rebounds, while Edwards went for five rebounds, five assists and two steals and Watson finished with five assists and two steals.
USM junior swingman LaDavius Draine did not finish with at least 10 points for only the second time in his last 10 games, but he finished with six points and a team high seven rebounds.
Three other Panthers joined Nunez with at least 10 points, including junior forward Osasumwen Osaghae, who hit 4-of-7 shots from the floor and 4-of-5 from the four line on his way with 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Junior forward Devon Andrews scored 13 points and grabbed three rebounds, while freshman guard Antonio Daye Jr. had 12 points and four assists.
FIU led only once at 3-2, and while the Golden Eagles built double-digit leads, USM could not shake the Panthers.
USM broke a 16-16 tie on a 14-0 run to grab a 30-16 lead only to see FIU roar back on a 16-4 run to pull within 34-32 with 7:01 left in the first half and had moved to 39-38 on Daye’s 3-pointer with 3:13 left to play in the first half.
But USM scored the final eight points of the half to take a 47-38 into the break.
FIU scored the first seven points of the second half to pull within 47-45 less than five minutes into the final stanza. But Harper-Baker’s slam dunk capped a 21-6 USM run that the left the Golden Eagles up 68-51 with 7:01 to play in the game.
Another Harper-Baker dunk gave USM its largest lead, 77-57, with 4:30 to play.
The Golden Eagles outscored the Panthers 62-24 near the basket and outrebounded an opponent for second consecutive game, nudging FIU 34-32 off the boards.
The Golden Eagles will stay in the Sunshine State into the weekend, visiting Florida Atlantic University at 3 p.m. Saturday in Boca, Fla.