HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Southern Miss weathered a second half comeback attempt from Louisiana Tech before pulling away, 80-71, Sunday afternoon in a battle of two of the top teams in Conference USA.
Michael Craig led Southern Miss with his fifth double-double of the year and sixth of his career, scoring 17 points and pulling down a career-high 12 rebounds. Daveon Boardingham led all scorers with 20 points while adding six boards and Aaron Brown added seven points and a career-high nine rebounds.
Neil Watson scored 14 points, including a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. He has now connected on 29 straight free throws, the second longest streak in Golden Eagle history. Watson also became the third player in school history with 400 career assists.
"Both teams competed for 40 minutes," said Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall. "Early on, it was an offensive game, but as both teams settled in, it became the defensive slugfest we thought it would be. But, for us to outrebound (Louisiana Tech) by 22 shows you how hard and physical we played."
Southern Miss (16-3, 3-1 C-USA) led, 47-39 at the half. The Bulldogs came out and immediately began to put pressure on the Black and Gold. Chris Anderson got things going with a floating jumper in the paint. After Craig hit a jumper of his own, Kenneth Smith converted a three-point play.
Cordarius Johnson hit a bucket, but Aaron Brown made one-of-two free throws. The teams traded baskets on four straight possessions, but Alex Hamilton converted another three-point play and Jaron Johnson made a jumper to cut the deficit to 56-55 with 12:42 to play.
Boardingham then found Craig for a dunk to push the lead back to three, but Hamilton hit a layup and following a Deonte Houston turnover, made two free throws to give Louisiana Tech its first lead of the since early in the first half, 59-58 with 11:16 remaining in the game.
Boardingham immediately gave the Golden Eagles the lead back, hitting a pair from the line, and Watson hit Southern Miss' first three-pointer of the game to stretch the lead to four.
Cordarius Johnson cut the lead to one with a three-pointer, but the Golden Eagles went on an 11-3 run to take a 74-65 lead with 3:26 to play.
The Bulldogs then scored six of the next eight points to make it's a five point game with two minutes left, but Watson hit four straight foul shots to clinch the game.
Southern Miss scored the first four points of the game. Cordarius Johnson then hit a three to get Louisiana Tech on the board. Michael Craig hit a jumper, but Chris Anderson came right back with a layup. Boardingham followed an Aaron Brown miss with a putback dunk, but Anderson hit a three to tie the game at eight just 2:06 into the game.
Craig found Boardingham for another dunk, but the Bulldogs scored six straight points, including a three by Johnson to give Louisiana Tech a 14-10 lead. Matt Bingaya hit one-of-two foul shots and Jeremiah Eason hit a jumper to cut the deficit to one, but Johnson made a free throw and Jaron Johnson hit a three to give Louisiana Tech (15-4, 3-1) its biggest lead of the half, 18-13, with 14:14 to play.
Craig hit a jumper, and following 2:28 of scoreless basketball, Jerrold Brooks found Boardingham to cut the lead to one.
Alex Hamilton extended the lead to three, but Brooks hit a driving basket, sending the Golden Eagles on a 10-0 run over the next 3:04 that gave them a 27-20 lead with 7:29 to play.
The Bulldogs hit two straight baskets to cut the lead to 27-24, but Southern Miss went on a 14-3 run to take its biggest lead of the game, 41-27, with 2:38 to go in the half.
However, Louisiana Tech would not go away. Kenneth Smith drained a three-pointer and Alex Hamilton hit two free throws to cut the deficit to nine.
Boardingham hit a pair of fouls shots, but Smith drained his second straight three. Deonte Houston then made two from the charity stripe, but Kenyon McNeail made a three.
Houston followed with a jumper, but Hamilton made one-of-two foul shots to cut the lead to 47-39 heading into halftime.
Southern Miss shot just 41.7-percent (25-of-60) from the field and was just 2-of-18 from three-point distance (11.1%). Louisiana Tech shot was 24-of-53 (45.3%) from the floor and 9-of-28 (32.1%) from three. But, the Golden Eagles hit 73.7% (28-of-38) from the line and outrebounded the Bulldogs, 48-to 26, the second straight game outrebounding the opposition by 20.
Southern Miss goes back on the road this Thursday, January 23, when it travels to Norfolk, Va., to face Old Dominion. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.
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