Southern Miss (13-9, 5-5 C-USA) opened its two-game road trip with a contest against Florida International (13-9, 4-5 C-USA) on Thursday. Southern Miss managed to jump out to a quick lead in the first half and came out on top with an 89-73 win. The Golden Eagles were coming off a big 101-51 home win against Marshall.
The Golden Eagles won the opening tip-off and went to work on the offensive side of the ball early to start the game. The team went 7-for-7 on field goals to open the game and led 16-9 early in the first. Florida International responded quick run to tie the game at 16-16, but Southern Miss responded with another run to expand its lead.
At one point during the first half, Southern Miss shot 93 percent on 13-for-14 shooting and pushed the lead forward by leading 30-16 with 12:12 left. The Panthers chipped away at the Southern Miss lead. Still, the Golden Eagles pushed the lead to 47-38 at halftime. Southern Miss finished the half with a 63 percent field goal percentage.
Florida International started the second half on a hot streak and scored seven straight points to start the half, but the Golden Eagles kept their composure throughout the second half, responding to the Florida International run with a 14-point run in the half and expanded their lead further. A free throw by Griffin with 3:04 left to play gave Southern Miss an 82-63 lead, and the team added seven more points by the end of the contest for the 89-73 win.
“I thought that when FIU came out with the press, and our guys were aggressive against it and took advantage of it,” Southern Miss head coach Doc Sadler said. “We got up 14, and then the things we were doing defensively, we flipped a switch because we were doing so well on offense. FIU scores 87 points per game, and that’s what I kept trying to tell our guys. We came back in the second half, and despite not having a good start, we came back from it.”
Senior guard Cortez Edwards and redshirt senior guard Tyree Griffin both provided solid offense on the night. Edwards and Griffin both finished with 18 points for the game.
Redshirt junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker, the current Conference USA Player of the Week, had a team-leading 21 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Harper-Baker’s 21 points are also a career-high. Freshman Gabe Watson also finished with 16 points in 20 minutes of play.
Southern Miss will continue its road trip with a contest against Florida Atlantic on Feb. 2. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m.