By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Southern Mississippi’s post players aren’t particularly tall and don’t have many polished moves around the rim.
They make up for it by being tenacious. In this game, that was good enough.
Dwayne Davis and Jerrold Brooks scored 13 points apiece, Jonathan Mills added 10 points and eight rebounds, and Southern Mississippi beat Louisiana Tech 63-52 on Monday night in the second round of the NIT.
Southern Miss outscored Louisiana Tech 44-22 in the paint, punishing Louisiana Tech under the basket with crisp passing and offensive rebounding. The Golden Eagles advance to the NIT quarterfinals and will host BYU on Wednesday.
“We started the game the right way and we had a great energy level,” Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. “We forced a few shots early, but for the most part we took care of the ball and fed the post. We didn’t settle for contested shots.”
Southern Miss (27-9) led for nearly the entire game and by double-digits for much of the second half. Reserve Rashard McGill added 10 points. The Golden Eagles had a 41-34 rebounding advantage.
Raheem Appleby scored 17 points to lead Louisiana Tech (27-7). The Bulldogs won 18 straight games earlier in the season, but lost four of their last five. Louisiana Tech shot just 19 of 54 (35.2 percent) from the field.
Southern Miss threatened to run away early, jumping out to a 33-16 lead with 4:04 left in the first half after Brooks hit a jumper. The Golden Eagles were forcing Louisiana Tech out of its preferred fast-break tempo and into half-court sets, which slowed the Bulldogs’ normally prolific offense.
“They’ve got some good guards,” Brooks said. “We knew if we could slow them down, we could slow their team down. That was the plan and we executed it.”
Southern Miss’ big first half run was even more impressive considering its best players weren’t on the court. Davis — the team’s leading scorer — missed much of the first half after picking up three fouls while forward Daveon Boardingham was battling a sore knee and barely played.
“Everybody had to step up and pick up a load,” Mills said. “Other guys just made plays.”
Louisiana Tech eventually fought back, going on an 11-0 late run to cut the lead to 35-27 by halftime.
Alex Hamilton led the Bulldogs with 13 first-half points and finished with 15. Mills scored all of his 10 points in the first half.
Southern Miss was the aggressor again early in the second half, picking apart Louisiana Tech’s defense with quick passes that led to easy buckets. McGill’s layup gave Southern Miss a 52-37 lead with 12:11 remaining. The Bulldogs made a few small runs after that, but could never mount a serious challenge.
“We really struggled against their unique zone defense and turned the ball over 18 times,” Louisiana Tech coach Michael White (a former Ole Miss player and assistant coach) said. “That just didn’t give us a very good chance.”
Louisiana Tech beat Southern Miss 65-55 on Dec. 8 in a nonconference game. The two teams will be conference rivals next season since Louisiana Tech is joining Conference USA.