Western Kentucky holds off USM, 76-71

Western Kentucky holds off USM, 76-71

BOWLING GREEN, KY (WDAM) _ So far, “bonus play” has been anything but a boon for the University of Southern Mississippi men’s basketball team.

The Golden Eagles dropped a second consecutive heartbreaker Sunday afternoon, falling 76-71 to Western Kentucky University at the E.A. Diddle Arena.

USM had pulled within a point, 72-71, with less than a minute to play on Dominic Magee’s left-handed runner in the lane.

But Lamonte Bearden drove the lane before kicking out to a wide-open Jared Savage in the corner, who made a 3-point basket with 14.1 seconds to play.

After USM committed a turnover on the inbounds play, WKU was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws as the Hilltoppers iced the win and finished off a season sweep of the Golden Eagles.

C-USA’s “bonus play” grouped teams according to record after the first 14 games of league play. USM finished as the “third seed” among a group of five teams at the top of the standings, with games against the other four.

The idea of grouping down the stretch was to have C-USA’s best teams face each other, giving a potential boost to each other’s ratings percentage index and strength of schedule.

The caveat: none of the top five teams can finish lower than a fifth seed in the conference postseason tournament in two weeks in Frisco, Texas.

Sunday’s loss came on the heels of a 76-72 overtime home loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 23 at Reed Green Coliseum.

USM still has two “bonus round” games left, and will travel to top-seeded Old Dominion University to tip off at 6 p.m. Wednesday before closing out a the regular season with a visit from the University of Tex-San Antonio at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Sunday, the Golden Eagles (17-11, 9-7) scrapped for 40 minutes against the Hilltoppers (18-12, 11-6), hitting 51.9 percent of their shots from the floor.

But WKU’s shooting from beyond the arc doomed USM.

The Hilltoppers made 11 treys, hitting 8-of-12 attempts in the second half. Bearden hit four, while Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth had three apiece.

Point guard Tyree Griffin led USM with 21 points, nine assists and three steals. Magee turned in one of his best games of the season with 12 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two assists. LaDavius Draine scored 16 points off the bench.

Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers with 21 points and five rebounds. Bearden added 14 points, four assists and two steals and Josh Anderson added 17 points, four rebounds and two steals.

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