Southern Miss traveled to Boca Raton, Fla. Sunday and came away with a 60-49 win over Florida Atlantic (10-20, 5-10) to move Southern Miss (25-5, 12-3) into a first-place tie with Middle Tennessee in Conference USA.
USM dropped two games the last time they hit the road and needed to come away with the win to improve their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament.
“We just have to go and play hard, you can’t go in underestimating any team, we’re playing for a conference (championship),” said senior Neil Watson before the game.
Daveon Boardingham scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and was terrific from the line for a big man, hitting 12-15 free throws. Aaron Brown chipped in 15 points for USM, going 8-8 from the free throw line.
The Golden Eagles went on a 9-0 run midway through the first half, as they held Florida Atlantic scoreless for seven minutes to give them a 31-24 lead at the break. FAU managed to cut the lead to just three after Justin Raffington scored with 5:30 left in the game. Southern Miss responded well with an 8-0 run in order to come away with the much-needed win.
FAU struggled down the stretch, going just 1-5 and turning it over three times in the last four minutes plus to end the game.
Southern Miss shot (8-22) 36.4 percent from the floor in the first half and (7-21) 33.3 percent in the second half. USM did not shoot well from beyond the arch hitting (2-6) 33.3 percent in the first half and (0-4) none in the second half. Southern Miss cashed in at the charity stripe shooting (13-18) 72.2 percent in the first half and (15-19) 78.9 percent in the second.
USM outscored FAU in the paint 26-12 and 19 points off turnovers while limiting FAU to just five. However, USM had six second-chance points to FAU’s 15.
Raffington finished the night with 14 points while Jackson Trapp and Tyler Pate were both in double figures with 11 and 10 points respectively.
USM will travel to New Orleans Thursday night to take on Tulane (16-14, 8-7) at 6 p.m. in the final regular season game for both schools. USM dominated Tulane 78-47 earlier in the season at home.
The C-USA tournament will start Tuesday in El Paso, Texas.