HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ The University of Southern Mississippi men’s basketball team capped a remarkable rise from the ashes of NCAA sanctions in fairly remarkable fashion Saturday afternoon at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Golden Eagles’ five seniors were honored during a pregame ceremony, and then sent off in fine fashion as USM routed the visiting University of Texas-San Antonio 81-48.
The win, USM’s eighth in their last 10 games, carried the Golden Eagles into a second-place tie in Conference USA, earning them the third seed and a first-round bye in next week’s Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship in Frisco, Texas.
“You stop and think about what they’ve been through,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “Five years ago, nobody knew we’d be going through the bumps and the bruises that we’ve gone through, but the character of them has really shown. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m proud next to this win.
“Hopefully, this will be a lifelong lesson that they will understand because they’re going to have some tough times. Just stick with it. Don’t be switching everything. At the end of the day, good things will happen for you.”
That certainly was the case at the end of the day Saturday, as the Golden Eagles knocked down a season-high 16 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, eight in each half, as USM raced out to a 40-26 halftime lead and never looked back.
The effort left Golden Eagles (19-11) with a season sweep of UTSA (17-14) that landed USM in a three-way 11-7 conference tie with the Roadrunners and Western Kentucky University (18-13).
Regular-season champion and top-seeded Old Dominion University (23-8) finished two games ahead of the second-place trio.
Sadler said seniors Cortez Edwards, Kevin Holland, Tyree Griffin, Dominic Magee and Anfernee Hampton had stayed the course despite the program recovering from inherited NCAA sanctions that included postseason bans and scholarship reductions to reach
“I really think that this senior class should have a banner up in those rafters,” Sadler said. “I don’t really know that people understand what these guys have been through.”
Saturday afternoon, Magee led the way with 19 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Griffin, who posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists, became the school’s third-leading distributor, passing Dante Stiggers all-time assists list.
Sophomore LaDavius Draine backed his elders with 13 points and six rebounds and junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker finished with nine points, seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
UTSA got 18 points and five rebounds from Giovanni DiNicolao.