Southern Miss guard Jeremy Wise, center, splits Rice defenders Suleiman Braimoh, left, and Bryan Beasley, right, on the way to the basket during the first half (AP Photo)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Jeremy Wise scored 23 points and Southern Mississippi held off Rice for a 59-50 victory in Wednesday's opening round of the Conference USA tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
"We were fortunate to win," said Golden Eagle head coach Larry Eustachy. "It was close for a while, and I knew that Rice was not going to go away. We were just very lucky. We got lucky tonight. There's no question that we made some great plays down the stretch. We made some great free throws and made a few great plays, but we were lucky, and I think our players realize that. It worked out, and give our players credit, they made the plays at the end. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and it wasn't."
Southern Miss (18-13) built the lead to as many as 14 in the second half, but the Owls went on a 15-5 run to pull within four.
Rice (3-27) never overtook the Golden Eagles after the break, but Southern Mississippi couldn't shake the Owls either. The Owls got within 48-46 on two free throws by Patrick Britton with 4:02 left, but Wise hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to give the Golden Eagles the victory. Wise was 9-of-10 from the line on the night, setting a new Golden Eagle record for a tournament game.
Southern Miss led by as many as 12 in first half before taking a 27-19 lead into the break.
Britton led Rice with 17 points and a game-high seven rebounds, while Bryan Beasley finished with 10 points before fouling out in the final minute.
Southern Miss will now face fourth-seeded UCF tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
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