HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) -For the better part of the 2019-20 men’s basketball season, University of Southern Mississippi sophomore point guard Jay Malone had been all about trying to set up his teammates with good looks at the basket.
Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum, the script flipped.
After hitting his first few attempts, the Golden Eagles started feeding Malone the basketball, and the transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College rewarded his teammates’ good sense.
Malone knocked down 9-of-16 shots, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range, on his way to a career-high 27 points and help USM to its first Conference USA victory of the season with an 81-68 win over Rice University.
Malone, who had come into the week leading C-USA in assist-to-turnover ratio, handed out seven assists against two turnovers Saturday. He hit 3-of-4 free throws and also grabbed four rebounds.
All told, the Golden Eagles (5-14, 1-5 C-USA) logged 24 assists on 29 made baskets, a shot-made-to assist ratio of 82.4 percent. The 81 points were the fourth-most of the season for USM and the most against Division I competition.
Sophomore Tyler Stevenson also came up large as USM snapped a five-game losing streak and logged its first win over a Division I foe since Dec. 7.
Stevenson went for 24 points, the second-highest scoring games in his career. He hit 9-of-14 shots and 6-of-6 free throws while grabbing eight rebounds.
Leonard Harper-Baker scored 12 points to log double-digit scoring for just the second time in nine games. He also had seven rebounds and dished out four assists.
USM coach Jay Ladner was sidelined by flu, leaving the coaching duties in the hands of USM associate head coach Kyle Roane.
Rice (9-10, 1-5) struggled with its aim all afternoon, shooting just 36.7 percent from the floor, in large part, because it shot 25.7 percent (9-of-35) from 3-point range. The Owls’ shooting issues extended to the free-throw line as well, where they made 15-of-24 shots (62.5 percent).
Down 34-30 at halftime, Rice closed to 34-33 on a three-point play by sophomore guard Chris Mullins to open the second half.
But USM went on a 9-0 run to take a 10-point lead, 43-33, Rice got back within two points at 45-43.
Propelled by a 3-pointer each from Malone, sophomore Gabe Watson and junior LaDavis Draine, the Golden Eagles ripped off a 15-4 run to take a 60-47 lead with 6:50 to play.
The Owls never got closer than seven points after.
Draine scored eight points, grabbed 10 rebounds and passed out five assists. Watson, who was battling the flu, had just four points, but hand out five assists.
Sophomore guard Trey Murphy III led Rice with 19 points and five rebounds. Junior guard Josh Parrish had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Sophomore wing Drew Peterson had five points but grabbed eight rebounds for the Owls.
The Golden Eagles travel to Birmingham, Ala., for a 7 p.m. tip off at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.