HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) – With a little more than 2 minutes to play Saturday afternoon at Reed Green Coliseum, the University of Southern Mississippi had a nine-point lead over the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and momentum seemingly on its side.
But finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, the Golden Eagles would have to wait a bit longer before Tyler Stevenson could cradle the final rebound of the game and USM could secure a Conference USA victory.
Aided by five Golden Eagles’ turnovers, Charlotte outscored USM 15-6 down the stretch, including a game-tying 3-pointer by UNCC senior guard Drew Edwards with 3 seconds left in regulation.
But USM outscored the 49ers 8-2 in the 5-minute overtime period to finally secure a 74-68 victory.
The Golden Eagles (7-16, 3-7 C-USA) snapped a two-game losing streak by winning the back end of a two-game homestand. Charlotte (12-9, 6-4) fell to 2-8 on the road.
“That’s a very big win for our program,” USM coach Jay Ladner said. “I thought our guys played with a lot of heart.”
None moreso than senior forward Leonard Harper-Baker and freshman wing Artur Konontsuk.
Harper-Baker finished two points shy of a triple-double. He scored eight points and turned in career highs of 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
One game after scoring no points and grabbing two rebounds, Konontsuk came up with one of his best performances of the season with 15 points and five rebounds.
“I don’t think he could have played a worse game (Thursday night against Old Dominion University),” Ladner said. “We challenged him, and he responded.”
USM junior wing LaDavius Draine put up his second consecutive 20-point game, finishing with 21 points and five rebounds.
Stevenson posted his second consecutive double-double and fourth of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Gabe Watson was the fourth Golden Eagle in double figures with 16 points.
The teams were tied at halftime, 29-29. Charlotte took a five-point lead coming out of halftime.
But USM stayed close, and finally regained the lead on a three-point play by Stevenson with 12:51 to play. Still leading by one point, 48-47, USM ripped off a 12-4 run to take the biggest lead by either team.
A pair of free throws by sophomore guard Gabe Watson left USM up 60-51 with 2:08 to play.
But Shepherd and Edwards scored five points each in a regulation run that saw the 49ers outscore the Golden Eagles by nine points and tie the game.
“We haven’t played a close game that we’ve won, so it was a little bit of a new experience for us,” Ladner said. “We didn’t handle that well, but we haven’t been in that position.
“We didn’t do a good job, and that’s my fault.”
Another two Watson free throws left USM up 66-63 with 21 seconds to play, and when Edwards missed a 3-pointer, Stevenson grabbed the rebound with 9 seconds to play as the coliseum erupted.
But the referees ruled that Stevenson had stepped on the end line and Edwards tied the game when a defensive miscommunication by the Golden Eagles left him wide open in the corner.
“We broke down there, definitely,” Ladner said.
The teams went scoreless through the first 2 minutes, 51 seconds of overtime before they swapped a driving leaner in the lane from USM senior forward Leonard Howard-Baker with two free throws by UNCC junior guard Jordan Shepherd for a 68-68 tie.
Those were the final points by the 49ers, missing a trio 3-pointers and committing a turnovers on their final four possessions.
The Golden Eagles outscored the 49ers 6-0 down the stretch.
Konontsuk hit a free throw with 1:24 to play and Stevenson hit a jumper with 37 seconds left and then added a free throw for a 72-68 lead.
Draine’s layup wrapped up the scoring with 9.2 seconds to play.
“We beat a quality team, and that just makes it better,” Ladner said. “It was great team effort. The young guys are improving, and we’re still plugging along."
Shepherd had 14 points and seven assists for UNCC, and sophomore guard Malik Martin added 13.
USM takes to the road for C-USA double-dip, starting with a stop Thursday in Huntington, W.Va., for a 6 p.m. meeting with Marshall University.