By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — LaShay Page scored 20 points and Darnell Dodson added 17 to push Southern Mississippi past East Carolina 78-76 in the Conference USA opener for both teams Wednesday night.
The Golden Eagles (14-2) never trailed, but had to fight off a late East Carolina rally sparked by Pirates forward Darrius Morrow, who scored 12 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
Southern Miss won the rebounding battle 35-25, including three out of the four rebounds after the 1:28 mark in the second half when East Carolina (9-5) was making its push.
Torye Pelham, then Rashard McGill pulled down rebounds after teammates missed the front end of two 1-and-1 opportunities in the final minute.
Miguel Paul scored 19 for East Carolina, including a final free throw that pulled the Pirates within two with 2.8 seconds left, but Pelham rebounded his second shot and cleared it out as time expired to snap the Pirates’ five-game winning streak.
“The effort late was the difference in the game,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. “I think a lot of rebounding is desire, and we work on it an awful lot in the practice. If we get in those situations late in games we want to be prepared.”
The Golden Eagles are winners of 10 straight games to match the best winning streak since the 1990-1991 season. Dodson has scored in double-digits in five of the last six games despite averaging less than 25 minutes of playing time per contest.
Page came up big for Southern Miss time and again, shooting 6 of 13 with six 3-pointers.
Four came with Southern Miss leading by fewer than three points.
“He’s obviously got the green light out there,” Eustachy said. “You don’t want to curtail his selection out there, because with a guy like him you want him to be out there with a lot of confidence.”
Southern Miss led by as many as 10 in the first half, but held a 41-37 lead at the break after Morrow hit a couple of jumpers and Paul added a 3-pointer just before the half.
The Golden Eagles led until the 5:52 mark in the second half, when Paris Campbell’s 3-pointer tied the game for the first time since the opening tipoff at 64-64.
Just under a minute later, an alley-oop from Neil Watson to Pelham gave Southern Miss its final lead and brought the crowd of 2,889 to its feet.
Maurice Kemp added 14 for East Carolina and led the Pirates in rebounds with six. East Carolina shot a season-high 52.9 percent from the floor (27 of 51).
“East Carolina is a tough team,” Page said. “We went up 12 in the second half and they wouldn’t go away. We got two big rebounds there at the end and it made the difference in the game. They have great guards and great big men and if we hadn’t have gotten those rebounds anything could have happened.”
Pelham was the only player to reach double figures in rebounds with 10.
Neil Watson and Maurice Bolden chipped in 11 and 10 points for Southern Miss.