The battle between the two best teams in C-USA did not disappoint as UTEP took its perfect road record to Reed- Green Coliseum where the Golden Eagles are undefeated.
Southern Miss shrugged off a slow start, but came on strong in the second half, pulling away at the end as it defeated league-leader UTEP, 77-68 and remained perfect at Reed-Green Coliseum Saturday night. With the victory, Tyndall became the fastest coach to reach 50 wins in Southern Miss history.
Southern Miss (23-5, 10-3) scored the first three points of the game with Jeremiah Eason going 1-2 at the free throw line then knocking down a jumper coming off an assist from Boardingham.
A three-point play by Vince Hunter sent UTEP on a 10-1 run that gave the Miners a 10-4 lead just 3:54 into the game.
Daveon Boardingham found Brown in the corner for a three-pointer to cut the lead to three, but a jumper from John Bohannon extended the lead to 12-7. A jumper by Brown, followed by a three from Chip Armelin, tied the game at 12 with 14:24 to play. UTEP’s Cedrick Lang was fouled by Michael Craig, who played just eight minutes as he was resting his sprained ankle, he made one-of-two free throws.
The teams then traded baskets as the Golden Eagles led 16-15 with 11:16 to play. With the game close, a three-pointer by C.J. Cooper sent UTEP (20-8, 10-3) on a 16-3 run as Southern Miss was held scoreless for nearly nine minutes; the Miners jumped out to a 31-19 lead, their largest of the game.
Brown hit his second three-pointer of the half to end the drought. But on the next possession, Watson picked up his third foul, and Hunter hit both free throws. Bingaya hit a pair from the charity stripe, but after a missed jumper, Hooper Vint grabbed the long rebound and found Hunter for a dunk to extend the UTEP lead to 35-24.
Deonte Houston would take it deep in the paint and finish with a layup. Following a missed shot, Brown went coast-to-coast for a layup, converting the ensuing foul shot to pull the Golden Eagles to with 35-29 with 1:20 to play before the half.
Hunter then hit a three-point play to push the lead back to nine. A Bingaya tip-in cut the lead to 38-31 at the break.
Freshman Matt Bingaya grew up right in front of the crowd’s eyes as he played a season-high 27 minutes and seemed to be in the right spot at the right times the entire game. Bingaya hit 3-4 free throws, then forced a steal off the inbounds pass and laid it in to pull Southern Miss to within four.
After Hunter hit a jumper, the teams traded three-pointers. Brown’s second straight three made it 47-44. After Bohannon knocked down a jumper, USM went on a 7-0 run capped off by Watson’s three-pointer off of a Bingaya steal that gave Southern Miss a 51-49 lead 7:30 into the second half, its first lead since leading 16-15 in the first half.
The arena exploded during the time out after Watson made the shot. Tyndall was so fired up; he broke the top button off his coat congratulating Matt Bingaya with a chest bump. A jumper by Hunter tied it, but Armelin’s second three of the game put the Golden Eagles ahead, by three.
Norville Carey added a putback off Bingaya’s jumper for a 56-52 lead with 11:04 to go. Willms hit a jump shot followed by three free throws from Julian Washburn and Hunter gave UTEP a one-point lead.
Two foul shots each from Bingaya and Deonte Houston gave Southern Miss a 60-57 lead with seven minutes remaining. Hunter pulled UTEP within two, hitting one-of two free throws. After the teams traded baskets, the game turned in USM’s favor as Houston hit a jumper and Jerrold Brooks drilled a three-pointer for a 67-60 lead with 4:54 to play. C.J. Cooper and Cedrick Lang each hit one-of-two foul shots, but Brown hit his fifth three-pointer of the night to extend the lead to eight.
Washburn hit a jumper, but two free throws from Brown and a basket by Bingaya gave Southern Miss its first double-digit lead of the game with two minutes to play, effectively sealing the victory.
“Both teams competed for 40 minutes,” said head coach Donnie Tyndall. “We just felt like the last 10 minutes of the game, if we could keep grinding on them, that we could wear them down, and I thought it did.”
Aaron Brown led Southern Miss with career-highs with 26 points and nine rebounds. He also hit a career-high five three-pointers. Matt Bingaya also had career-highs of 21 points and seven boards. Neil Watson added five assists.
“At the beginning of the year my whole thing was to come in give energy and do what I can to help this team get wins.” Bingaya said.
USM will stay at home to play FIU (13-15 5-8) Thursday night; tip-off is for 6 p.m.