BOCA RATON, FL (WDAM) - Senior guard Cortez Edwards’ layup with 47 seconds to play broke a tie and the University of Southern Mississippi made just enough free throws in the final 30 seconds to hold off Florida Atlantic University 74-72 Saturday at FAU Arena.
USM (14-9, 6-5 Conference USA) swept both ends of a two-game, conference road trip through Florida. Saturday’s victory, the Golden Eagles third in a row, boosted them over the .500 mark in C-USA play.
Overall, the Golden Eagles have won six of their past eight games.
USM blistered the nets Saturday for a third consecutive game, making 17-of-25 shots in the first half (68 percent) before cooling to 58 percent for the game, hitting at a 48.1 percent clip in the second half.
The Golden Eagles also outrebounded an opponent (28-27) for a third consecutive game.
But the Owls (13-10, 4-6) gave USM fits from 3-point range (14 of 36), matching the most made 3-pointers by a Golden Eagle opponent this season (14, University of South Alabama).
FAU led by as many as six points early before USM grabbed the lead, 17-16, on a jumper by junior forward Tim Rowe . The Owls remained close, down just two points after senior guard Anthony Adger hit a 3-pointer with 3:40 left in the first half.
But senior guard Kevin Holland hit a pair of 3-pointers and senior point guard Tyree Griffin drilled a shot-clock trey from the top of the circle as the Golden Eagles closed the half on a 9-0 run to take an 11-point lead, 38-27, into the locker room at halftime.
Griffin was a scoring dynamo in the first half. He scored 16 of his season-high-tying 21 points in the opening frame, hitting 7-of-8 shots, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.
USM pushed its lead to 14 at the 17:37 mark of the second half before the Owls came storming back. After FAU used a 13-0 run to pull within one, the Golden Eagles saw its lead skew from five points to one point over the next seven minutes.
FAU regained the lead, 56-55, on an Adger 3-pointer before two free throws by USM junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker gave the edge back to the Golden Eagles .
Twice more, the Owls would grab one-point leads, the last coming on a jumper by senior forward Simeon Lepichev with 2:50 left in the game.
But Holland answered with his third and final 3-pointer of the game with 2:22 to go and USM never trailed again.
A layup by FAU junior center Aleksander Zecevic tied the game with just more than two minutes to play, but Edwards’ layup broke the tie and put USM up 71-69.
Griffin missed a free throw while the Owls missed a pair of shots before Harper-Baker made two free throws for a 73-69 lead with 9 seconds to play.
Adger then drove for a basket and was fouled along the way. His 3-point play pulled the Owls within a point with 4 seconds left in the game.
But USM sophomore forward LaDavius Draine made 1-of-2 free throws with 3 seconds to play and a half-court heave by FAU went awry.
Edwards scored 22 points, 16 in the second half. He also came up with six of USM’s eight steals while dishing out a team-high five assists and grabbed four rebounds.
Harper-Baker added 10 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. The 52 percent free-throw shooter was 4-of-4 from the line Saturday.
Adger finished with 19 points for FAU, hitting 4-of-9 from 3-point range. Senior forward Xavian Stapleton, a Flora, Miss., native, came off the bench for 18 points, while freshman guard Michael Forrest added 11 points, hitting 3-of-7 shots from 3-point range.
USM will return home for a three-game conference homestand, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday when Louisiana Tech University comes to Reed Green Coliseum.