By David Brandt/The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Jonathan Mills tried to put away Charleston Southern. So did Neil Watson. Neither could do it.
Instead, it was four points in the final 20 seconds from unheralded Rashard McGill that gave Southern Miss a 78-71 victory over Charleston Southern in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The victory snapped a nine-game postseason losing streak that dates back to 1988. McGill hit an 18-foot jumper and two free throws — his first and only four points of the game — in the most crucial possessions of the night to seal the victory.
The crowd gasped when McGill took the surprising jumper with Southern Miss (26-9) clinging to a 74-71 lead. But Watson wasn’t worried.
“I knew (McGill) was going to make it,” Watson said. “He’s one of the guys I go to the gym with late at night and we work on shots, play 1-on-1 or just shoot a lot of 3-pointers to stay in the rhythm. And once he went to his 1-2 dribble, I knew it was going up and it was going to be good. There was no doubt in my mind even though he hadn’t hit a shot. I knew it was going to money.”
Mills led the Golden Eagles with 16 points and Watson added 15 to lead five players in double figures.
Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall was worried about Charleston Southern’s ability to pull the upset, especially considering the Buccaneers average nearly 10 3-pointers per game.
But it was the Golden Eagles who got hot from long range, hitting 6 of 10 in the first half and 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) for the game.
Southern Miss built a 13-point lead in the first half and another 12-point advantage in the second half. But every time it looked as if the Golden Eagles had things in control, Charleston Southern responded with a run.
The Buccaneers, who were the Big South regular-season champions, pulled to 74-71 with 51 seconds left on Saah Nimley’s 3-pointer, but could get no closer. Nimley led the Buccaneers with 24 points. Arlon Harper had 18.
“We expected it. They’re not a bad team — they’re good and they’re scrappy,” Mills said. “They run the floor well and they can shoot it. We weren’t surprised that they came out and played hard.”
Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We played like we belong here, like we’re a postseason tournament team,” Radebaugh said. “That was a great experience that will lead us into a great spring and a great summer and an even better next year.”
Southern Miss will play Louisiana Tech in the second round on Monday. The Golden Eagles lost a road game to Louisiana Tech 65-55 earlier this season. Louisiana Tech is coached by former Ole Miss player and assistant coach Michael White.
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