NEW ORLEANS - Southern Miss defeated Tulane, 68-51, Thursday night to clinch its first Conference USA regular season Championship since 2001.
It is also the fifth regular season championship in school history.
Matt Bingaya led Southern Miss (26-5, 13-3 C-USA) with 14 points, six rebounds and three steals. Aaron Brown had 14 points and six rebounds and Jerrold Brooks had 12 points and four assists. Neil Watson added nine points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Brooks got things going with a three-pointer to start the game. Aaron Brown then found Bingaya for streaking dunk and a 5-0 lead. Tulane (16-15, 8-8) got on the board with a Tomas Bruha dunk and following two Southern Miss turnovers, Jay Hook hit a pair of free throws to make it 5-4, 3:09 into the game.
Eason hit a pair of free throws and Tre Drye hit one-of-two to tie the game at nine. The teams then traded three-pointers by Chip Armelin and Cameron Reynolds before Bingaya got a tip-in and Brooks hit a three-pointer for a 17-12 lead.
After two minutes of scoreless basketball, Dabney found Bruha for a dunk. But, six straight points gave Southern Miss a 23-14 advantage with 5:54 to play in the first half. Dabney hit two free throw to cut the eight, but Brooks drained a three and then found Eason for a layup and a 12-point lead.
Drye hit two free throws, but two straight threes from Brooks and Brown gave Southern Miss its largest lead of the first half, 34-18, with 1:34 to play in half. Jonathan Stark made a layup, but Bingaya's tip-in at the end of the half send Southern Miss into the break with a 36-22 lead.
The teams traded baskets to start the second half. After a layup from Drye, Brown pushed the lead to 15 with a three-pointer.
Two baskets by Stark cut the lead to 11. They again traded baskets, but Armelin's second three extended the lead to 14, 6:30 into the second half.
Jay Hook hit two free throws, but Eason got one back. After a dunk by Kevin Thomas, Deonte Houston hit one-of-two foul shots and Brown hit a slicing layup for a 50-36 lead with 10 minutes to play. Tulane hit back-to-back three-pointers, sandwiched around an Eason free throw to bring the Green Wave to within nine points.
Watson, who had missed his previous 11 three-pointers dating back to the FIU game, drained a three, and Bingaya followed with a tip-in to push the lead back to 14, but Tulane responded with five straight to cut the deficit to 56-47 with 6:39 to play. But, Southern Miss outscored the Green Wave, 12-4 the rest of the game.
Southern Miss shot 49.1-percent (26-of-53) from the field, including 55.0-percent (11-of-20) from three. Tulane was held to 18-of-42 (42.9%) from the floor and 4-of-16 (25.0%) from three. The Golden Eagles outrebounded the Green Wave, 33-to-24 and had eight steals.
Southern Miss earned a double-bye into next week's Conference USA Tournament, where it will be the fourth-seed. They open up next Thursday, March 13 at 7 p.m. CT against UTEP, East Carolina or UTSA.
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