HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Southern Miss held off a second half rally by Toledo to defeat the Rockets, 66-59, in the opening round of the 2014 NIT, Wednesday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Golden Eagles (28-6) advance to the second round to play at Missouri this Sunday, March 23 at 4 p.m. CT. The game will be nationally-televised by ESPNU.
"We defended really well the first half," said Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall. "In the second half, we got on our heels a little bit and Toledo made some shots. But, like our guys have done all year when things didn't go our way, we kept plugging away and guys stepped up to make some plays. That was a heck of a college basketball game."
Southern Miss led, 34-19, at the half. However, Toledo (27-7) scored the first 11 points of the second half to cut the deficit to four just 3:37 into the half. Brooks hit a three-pointer, but Justin Drummond answered with a three-point play.
Brooks hit another three, but a Rian Pearson three sent the Rockets on a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game, 43-40, with 11:45 to play.
Two free throws by Craig and a Watson fast break layup gave the Golden Eagles the lead, but Toledo regained the lead on a pair of baskets by Julius Brown and Jordan Lauf.
Southern Miss then went on a 10-2 run to take a 54-49 lead with 5:13 to play. Drummond hit a pair of free throws, but Brown drained a three, followed by a Craig jumper to push the lead to 59-51 with 3:34 remaining.
Toledo cut the lead to four, but an alley-oop from Watson to Craig followed by five straight free throws sealed the victory.
Michael Craig led Southern Miss with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Neil Watson had 12 points and Jerrold Brooks had 11. Aaron Brown added 10 points four rebounds and four assists. Matt Bingaya had seven points and grabbed a career-high eight rebounds and Daveon Boardingham added seven boards.
Southern Miss came out hot, hitting its first three shots for a 7-0 lead in the first minute and a half. However, the Golden Eagles made just one of their next 10 shots over the next five minutes as Toledo cut the lead to 8-6. After the teams traded baskets, Southern Miss went on a 12-2 run, aided by two Watson three-pointers, to take a 21-10 lead with 7:10 to play in the half.
The teams then traded a pair of baskets. Nathan Boothe hit a jumper with 4:35 to play, but Brooks drained a three-pointer, sending the Black and Gold on a 7-0 run and giving it its largest lead of the half, 32-16, with 2:35 to play.
The Rockets scored three straight points, but a layup by Bingaya send Southern Miss into the half with a 15-point lead.
Southern Miss shot 46.0-percent (23-of-50) from the field, including 38.9-percent (7-of-18) from three. Toledo connected on 41.8-percent (23-of-55) but was just 4-of-22 (18.2%) from behind the arc. The Golden Eagles also outrebounded Toledo, 39-to-29.
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