Eagles fall to Tigers in heartbreaking loss
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 00:03
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles suffered a gut-wrenching 79-91 double-overtime defeat to the rival Memphis Tigers in the Conference USA Tournament Championship Game on Saturday. Although the Golden Eagles played well enough throughout the tournament to secure a No. 1 seed in the upcoming National Invitational Tournament (NIT), their third loss to Memphis this season ultimately tarnished their chances of cracking the field of 68 in the NCAA Tournament.
The game was a grind from start to finish, as both teams struggled to take a stranglehold of the contest throughout. The Tigers possessed a 7-point lead with 32 seconds left in regulation, but the Golden Eagles staged a furious comeback on the strength of a 9-2 run. The rally was capped by Neil Watson’s buzzer beater lay up, which sent the game into overtime with both sides deadlocked at 62.
The first overtime mimicked the characteristics of the first two halves, as neither team extended a lead larger than two points. Southern Miss forward Daveon Boardingham could have given the Eagles a three-point lead with 22 seconds remaining, but he only knocked down one of his two free throws. Memphis guard Joe Jackson made the Eagles pay on the ensuing possession, as his clutch jumper tied the game with 12 seconds left on the clock, and both sides entered the second overtime knotted at 72.
Southern Miss gained early momentum in the second extra period after a Dwayne Davis layup made it 76-75 in favor of the Eagles, but the Tigers quickly reclaimed the lead on Chris Crawford’s fifth three-point basket of the contest the following possession. Crawford’s bucket sparked a 16-3 run to close out the game for Tigers, helping them clinch their sixth conference tournament championship in seven years. This is the Tigers’ last season in C-USA before they realign with the Big East next year.
The Eagles lost the game at the foul line, as they shot a dismal 53.6 percent from the charity stripe. The opposition only shot 64 percent from the free throw line, but they had Crawford on their side. He scored 20 of his 23 points after the first half, something he has made a habit of doing against the Eagles in his three-year career with the Tigers. In three games against the Eagles this season, Crawford has torched Southern Miss to the tune of 14 made baskets from beyond the arc. On Saturday the Eagles could not contain him down the stretch, and it ultimately cost them what could have been their first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship.
Despite the loss, the Eagles recorded strong performances from Jonathan Mills and Boardingham. Mills poured in 15 points to go along with his game-high 17 rebounds, an exact replica of the numbers he put up against East Carolina on March 2. Boardingham put up a team-high 19 points on 8-12 shooting to compliment his 8 rebounds.
Although the Eagles were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, Southern Miss seniors Mills, Davis and Rashard McGill are now guaranteed at least one more game in front of their home crowd when USM hosts Charleston Southern on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m.
This will be Southern Miss’s ninth trip to the NIT and its first since 2001. The Golden Eagles won the NIT in 1987 but have only recorded a 6-7 record in the tournament all-time.