Southern Miss won its second home game in three days on Saturday evening with a 73-68 victory over the UAB Blazers in a game that was undecided until the final minute of action.
Tremendous shooting from long range and a lot of solid defense helped Southern Miss seal its second straight conference win after a 0-3 start to its Conference USA schedule.
“It was really important to get the win, especially coming off an 0-3 start in the conference,” redshirt senior forward Leonard Harper-Baker said. “We always want to defend home court, and that’s what we were able to do tonight.”
Fans were given an exciting first half of action, featuring 14 lead changes. Southern Miss was efficient from long range, hitting six three-point attempts in the first 20 minutes.
Harper-Baker was a leader on both sides of the court for the Golden Eagles, scoring eight first-half points and grabbing seven rebounds. Senior guard Cortez Edwards tacked on eight points as well, including two makes from behind the perimeter.
Despite the team’s success from deep, a 24-19 rebounding advantage for the Blazers paved the way for a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points to keep the score tight. Southern Miss led 33-32 at the halftime buzzer.
Shots continued to fall in the second half for both teams, setting up for a tight finish in an important conference game for the Golden Eagles and Blazers.
Sophomore guard LaDavius Draine gave the team solid minutes off the bench, making four from behind the arc, including one to give Southern Miss a 69-68 lead with half a minute remaining on the clock. The ensuing drive resulted in a steal by Edwards and free throws by Harper-Baker to give the Golden Eagles a two-score lead and ultimately a 73-68 victory.
“You just have to remind them, if they get something they’ve got to gotta earn it,” head coach Doc Sadler said when asked about his team’s last timeout huddle with under a minute to play. “Don’t give them a cheap foul, don’t put them at the free throw line, and don’t give them an offensive rebound after you make a stop. You’re not going to stop them completely, but let’s make sure that everything they get, they earn it.”
Draine led the team offensively, scoring 19 points in 32 minutes of play. Harper-Baker posted his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Edwards finished with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals.
Guard Tyree Griffin made just 2-of-11 shots in the contest but helped the Golden Eagles by diving for loose balls down the stretch to give the team enough offensive opportunities to take the lead. The redshirt senior also dished out a team-high 10 assists.
With the win, Southern Miss improves to 10-7 overall and 2-3 in conference play. The team will travel to play Charlotte on Jan. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.