By David Brandt/The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss whipped the ball around the perimeter until Jerrold Brooks found Dwayne Davis standing all alone in the corner behind the 3-point line.
The way Davis has been playing lately, there was no doubt what was going to happen next.
The 6-foot-5 guard caught Brooks’ pass, took his time, and drilled a 3-pointer to thwart a final Central Florida rally and lead the Golden Eagles to a 70-62 victory on Saturday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
Davis poured in 34 points in the win, just three days after dumping a career-high 35 points on Marshall. He’s averaging 28 points per game over his past four contests — shooting 36 of 61 (59 percent) from the field during that span.
“He’s one of those unique guys who has ways to get the ball in the hole,” Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. “Sometimes it’s posting, sometimes it’s falling away and sometimes it’s double pumping. He’s a scorer. It’s not always pretty, but he finds a way to get the ball in the goal.”
Southern Miss (23-8, 12-4 Conference USA) has secured the second seed in next week’s league tournament. The Golden Eagles have won five of their past seven games.
Davis dazzled in his final home game, shooting 9 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range and also 12 of 12 on free throws. He leads the team with 16 points per game this season, but has been even better of late.
Davis is playing his only season of Division I basketball after a journeyman’s career that has included four stops. He nearly gave up hoops last year after missing his junior season because of academic issues, but stayed with the Golden Eagles.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Davis said. “… I guess dreams do come true. All the credit goes to my teammates for finding me all year.”
Central Florida (20-11, 9-7) ends its season with the loss. The Knights are ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. Isaiah Sykes led UCF with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was tight early, but Southern Miss slowly pulled away for a 33-23 halftime advantage. Davis led the Golden Eagles with 14 points on his usual array of 3-pointers and drives to the basket. It’s the first time a Southern Miss player has scored 30 points in back-to-back games since 2002.
Southern Miss pushed its lead to 42-28 with 16:41 remaining, but Central Florida slowly chipped away and a 3-pointer by Sykes brought the Knights within 54-53 with 6:25 left.
Central Florida couldn’t get any closer. Southern Miss scored the next five points and held on to avenge a 60-58 loss to the Knights in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 6.
“We didn’t come out with the intensity we needed to have from the beginning,” Central Florida forward Keith Clanton said. “It’s not what happened at the end of the game. We gave effort. But early, we got down by a quick 10 and then it was tough to recover.”
Kasey Wilson added 11 points and four rebounds for Central Florida, which won 20 games despite knowing it wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason. Central Florida had a 41-33 rebounding advantage, including 21 offensive rebounds, but shot just 21 of 62 (33.9 percent) from the field.
Southern Miss forced Central Florida into 14 turnovers and made 26 of 33 (78.8 percent) free-throw attempts.
The win helps the Golden Eagles’ NCAA tournament resume, though they still appear a longshot to make the 68-team field with an at-large bid. The only certain way into the bracket is by winning next week’s Conference USA tournament in Tulsa, Okla.
That road will likely go through Memphis — a team that has beaten Southern Miss twice this season.
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