With a chance to play in New York City at Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals, Southern Miss (29-7,13-3 C-USA) fell short losing to the top seed of Region 3, Minnesota (23-13, 8-10 Big Ten) 81-73.
USM came out of the gates hot starting the game with a 13-4 run over the first four minutes. Following the first official TV timeout, USM’s next point would come from Matt Bingaya after hitting only one of his free throws.
USM would cool off after the timeout and Minnesota would take advantage cutting USM’s lead to two points after Austin Hollins knocked down a three pointer which made it 14-12.
After Jerrold Brooks came away with a steal he would find Aaron Brown streaking down the court for a dunk, but like they did most of the night Minnesota would answer right back; Maverick Ahanmisi hit a three to cut the USM lead to just one.
After Michael Craig found fellow big man Daveon Boardingham in the paint for a nice one-handed jam, Ahanmisi would hit another three pointer to tie the game up at 18 with 10:13 left until half time.
Southern Miss would push its lead to eight after Brown found Boardingham for another dunk, a pair of free throws followed by consecutive layups. The lead would be cut to three after Deandre Mathieu got to the rim and put in a layup before knocking down a three-pointer after an Eliott Eliason steal.
With USM up 35-28 with 4:22 remaining in the first half, Minnesota would rally behind Hollins, who scored or assisted on every basket, to give Minnesota a 44-40 lead going into halftime.
Joey King started the scoring in the second half giving the Gophers a six point lead. Southern Miss looked fatigued in the second half. USM committed three turnovers, two fouls, missed a free throw and missed a wide open lay up while Minnesota pushed its lead 49-43.
A 10-3 run gave Minnesota a 59-46 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Minnesota never gave up the lead in the second half. Minnesota’s Austin Hollins would hit all 10 of his free throws to ensure the 81-73 point victory for the Gophers. Hollins finished with a game and career-high 32 points.
“We knew coming in that would be a key in regard to trying to contain him,” Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall said. “Obviously, we didn’t do a great job there.”
USM shot 26-59 (44 percent) from the field, 9-26 (35 percent) from beyond the arch and 12-20 (60 percent) from the charity stripe. The Golden Eagles won the rebounding battle by outrebounding the Gophers 37-27.
In their final game wearing a Golden Eagle uniform, the seniors put forth their best effort to try to extend their careers. Watson finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. Boardingham finished with 15 points and five rebounds. Craig finished with seven points, six assists and five rebounds, while Brooks finished with eight points three assists and two rebounds.
For the second straight season, the Golden Eagles fell one win shy of reaching Madison Square Garden. USM’s 29 wins this season tied a school record.