By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy said he could feel Saturday night’s Conference USA basketball game with Marshall slipping away from the Golden Eagles’ grasp down the stretch.
Forward Maurice Bolden stepped in and made sure that didn’t happen in a 67-60 win.
With Southern Miss (18-5, 7-3) clinging to a three-point lead, Bolden grabbed a rebound on a missed free throw, scored and was fouled on the basket.
His three-point play gave the Golden Eagles a 66-60 cushion. Bolden then blocked Damier Pitts’ drive at the other end of the court, and Southern Miss held on.
“There’s no telling what would have happened if we don’t put that ball back,” Eustachy said. “I am convinced, because they have good enough players and players capable of making big plays, that they would have come down and nailed a (3-point basket) and we would have gone overtime.
“I mean, the game was unraveling toward the end … but you know, all in all, it was a great win even though we didn’t play great.”
The win enabled Southern Miss to stay within percentage points of league-leading UTEP (18-5, 6-2), and avenged a 95-65 loss to Marshall (15-8, 3-5) on Jan. 8.
It was the fourth straight victory for Southern Miss, which improved to 10-1 at home.
“We did some good things, but we can play better and we need to play better,” Eustachy said. “The good thing was, in spite of everything, we won, so that tells you something.”
Southern Miss center Gary Flowers, Conference USA’s leading scorer (20.2 points per game), finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But he struggled shooting the ball, going just 7 for 22 from the floor.
Guard R.L. Horton, the Golden Eagles’ second-leading scorer (12.5 points per game), made shot just 1 of 9 and finished with only two points.
But three other players stepped up with double-figure scoring for Southern Miss as Angelo Johnson had 13 and dished out seven assists. D.J. Newbill had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Josimar Ayarza added 10 points, all in the first half for the Golden Eagles.
DeAndre Kane scored 20 points to lead Marshall, which shot 33.3 percent from the floor (20 of 60) and made 14 of 28 free throws.
Kane was the only Marshall player to score in double figures in a game that featured 43 fouls, including a pair of technical fouls on Southern Miss swingman Sai’Quon Stone.
“It was a fierce, fierce competitive game,” Eustachy said.
It wasn’t like that early on, as it appeared the Golden Eagles had a stranglehold on the outcome.
The Golden Eagles held Marshall scoreless over a 4:48 span in the first half to take a 29-18 lead with 5:30 to go.
Southern Miss maintained that 11-point margin, 34-23, on Ayarza’s 3-point play with 1:12 to play, then went to the locker room up 36-24 on Flowers’ two free throws.
The Golden Eagles led by as many as 16 points in the second half, and were up by 13 with 4:47 to go. From there, Marshall went on a 12-2 run to make it 63-60 with 36 seconds left.
Horton was fouled with 34.3 seconds to play, but the senior missed both free throws, the second coming off the back iron into the hands of Bolden, who banked in the shot from the middle of the lane and was fouled. His free throw made it a six-point game.
After Bolden blocked Pitts’ drive at the other end, Flowers hit one of two free throws with 25.4 seconds left to ice the game.
Southern Miss outrebounded the Herd 49-39.