HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ An inexperienced University of Southern Mississippi men’s basketball team lacked the “killer instinct” in its Tuesday night exhibition with Mississippi College at Reed Green Coliseum.
As it turned out, that lack nearly proved to be the Golden Eagles undoing.
USM led by as many as 19 points in the second half, and still held a 14-point edge after Artur Konotsuk’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left to play.
That was the last field goal for USM, which then couldn’t get the ball up the court and watched as the Choctaws quickly pulled within 64-60 with 90 seconds left in the game.
But the one area the Golden Eagles excelled in the end game came from their work at the free-throw line,
USM went 11-of-12 down the stretch, including a pair from guard Gabe Watson with 3 seconds to play to give the Golden Eagles a 73-68 victory.
“Where we have to learn and mature is that we need to value every possession,” first-year USM coach Jay Ladner said. “We got too casual at times and it hurt us tonight.
“We let them get off the mat instead of having a killer instinct.”
USM committed 16 turnovers, 10 in the second half, including four in a 2:42 stretch that helped fuel Mississippi College’s charge.
But USM’s free-throw shooting provided a lifeline, and the Golden Eagles got a key blocked shot by forward Leonard Harper-Baker with 59 seconds to play and a steal by guard LaDavius Draine 23 seconds later that blunted the Choctaws’ surge.
Mississippi College wound up shooting 51.9 percent from the floor, including 60 percent in the second half. The Choctaws made seven of their final 10 shots.
The free-throw line not only made the difference for USM at the end, it did as well in the end. The Golden Eagles connected on 21-of-25 free-throw attempts, an 84 percent success rate.
USM also held a 37-21 rebounding edge, with forward Boban Jacdonmi coming off the bench to grab a game-high nine rebounds. Harper-Baker had seven rebounds and forward Tyler Stevenson six. Mississippi College mansged just two rebounds off the offensive boards.
Guard Jay Malone, a transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College who started alongside Watson, Draine, Harper-Baker and Stevenson, scored a team-high 14 points.
Draine finished with 13 points and three steals and Watson had 11 points and four assists. USM finished with just seven assists on its 24 baskets.
Mississippi College forward Brandon Boston finished with a game-high 28 points, hitting 10-of-14 shots from the floor and 7-of-7 free throws. He also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
USM will open its season at 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the Golden Eagles welcome Delta State University to Reed Green Coliseum.