HATTIESBURG, Miss. - 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, Saturday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
The victory also gave head coach Donnie Tyndall his 50th win at Southern Miss, becoming the fastest to 50 wins in school history.
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.
"Both teams competed for 40 minutes," said 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."
Southern Miss (23-5, 10-3 C-USA) scored the first three points of the game, but 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.
However, a jumper by Brown followed by a three from Chip Armelin tied the game at 12 with 14:24 to play. Cedrick Lang made one-of-two free throws, a Matt Bingaya made a layup. The teams then traded baskets as the Golden Eagles led 16-15 with 11:16 to play.
However, a three-pointer by C.J. Cooper sent UTEP (20-8, 10-3) on a 16-3 run as Southern Miss was held without a field goal for nearly nine minutes, as 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 draught. But on the next possession, Watson picked up his third foul, and Hunter hit both free throw.
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 lead back to 35-24.
Deonte Houston followed with a layup and 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.
The teams traded baskets to start the second half. Hunter hit two free throws to extend UTEP's lead to nine. But, the Golden Eagles began to chip away and deficit.
Bingaya hit three-of-four free throws, then forced a steals of the inbounds and laid it in to pull Southern Miss to within four. After Hunter hit a jumper, the teams traded three-pointers. But, Brown's second straight three made it 47-44.
Bohannon hit a jumper, but Boardingham's jumper sent the Black and Gold on a 7-0 run, capped off by Watson's three-pointer that gave Southern Miss a 51-49 lead 7:30 into the half , its first lead since leading 16-15 in the first half.
A jumper by Hunter tied it, but Armelin's second three of the game put the Golden Eagles ahead, by three. Matt Willms then hit one-of-two foul shots, by Norville Carey putback Bingaya's jumper for a 56-52 lead with 11:04 to go.
However, a jumper by Willms followed by three free throws from Julian Washburn and Hunter gave UTEP a one-point lead.
That's when the Golden Eagles stepped it up. 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, 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.
Southern Miss shot 48.1-percent (25-of-52) from the floor but was 9-of-17 (52.9%) from three. UTEP connected on 52.2-percent from the field, but was just 4-of-14 (28.6%) from behind the arc. The Golden Eagles also won the rebounding battle, 32-to-29.
Hunter led the Miners with 26 points and six rebounds. Bohannon and Washburn each had 12 points apiece.
Southern Miss closes out its home schedule next Thursday, February 27, when it hosts FIU. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on CSS.
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