By The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. — Neil Watson scored 23 points and Darnell Dodson added 22 to lead Southern Miss a 78-65 victory over Central Florida on Saturday night.
Southern Miss (19-3, 6-1 Conference USA) ended UCF’s16-game home win streak. Keith Clanton led the Knights (15-6, 5-3) with 21 points and six rebounds. Marcus Jordan was the only other UCF player to score in double figures with 11.
Watson and Dodson, both reserves, provided the spark as Southern Miss rallied from a 12-point deficit to win easily. The two combined to hits 11 of 22 shots, including five of nine from 3-point territory. Watson had six assists and Dodson eight rebounds.
“Neil and Darnell obviously were very, very good tonight,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. “We haven’t seen that kind of production from them, but we knew they were capable of it, so it was really nice to see.”
Watson hit four 3-pointers, three in the second half. He and Dodson were a combined 12-14 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game.
UCF ran off 14 straight points during a stretch of the first half and led 31-19 after P.J. Gaynor’s drive in the lane with 2:45 left in the half. Southern Miss closed the half with an 11-0 run to make it 31-30 at halftime.
“I thought we were playing with a nice rhythm in the first half,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. “But we didn’t respond in the second half and Southern Miss did. That’s why they’re sitting at the top of our league.”
The Golden Eagles gained control with a 19-7 run midway through the second half. Watson started the run with a 3-pointer, Dodson followed that with a 3-point play and finished it with a free throw after being fouled hard on an offensive rebound.
Watson contributed another 3-pointer during the run and had three of his assists during the stretch that gave the Golden Eagles a 56-44 lead with 9:03 left in the game.
UCF did cut the deficit to seven on four occasions after that, but never got closer.
“We’ve been searching for an identity all season and I think we found one tonight,” Eustachy said. “We were really physical and showed the kind of toughness we’ve been talking about all year. Winning in a place where they won 16 straight isn’t easy so I’m really happy with what our guys did tonight.”