|Jack Duggan, Assistant Athletic Director/Media Relations
Hattiesburg, Miss. - All one had to do was ask one question of The University of Southern Mississippi point Khari Price to gauge the depth of disappointment for the Golden Eagles after missing out on the opportunity of the season to take down the best team in Conference USA.
“It’s probably the toughest loss I’ve had to take,” Price said. Southern Miss wrestled with the UAB for 50 minutes Thursday night at Green Coliseum, playing the league-leading Blazers even-steven through the first 45.
But in the end, after two, final 3-point shots had failed to find the mark in the last three ticks of the game clock, UAB had survived an 80-77 double overtime slugfest with its long-time rival. “It’s a tough loss when we had so many chances to end the game,” USM guard Kourtlin Jackson said.
“We definitely could have won it.” Instead, the Golden Eagles (7-15, 4-7 C-USA) dropped its third consecutive game while losing to the Blazers for the fourth time in a row. UAB (21-4, 11-1) won for the 19th time in its last 20 games, and coupled with Middle Tennessee’s loss at Louisiana Tech Thursday, took a two-game lead at the top of the C-USA standings. It wasn’t easy, though. Time and time again, Southern Miss fought back after falling behind, once again finding the range at Reed Green from beyond the arc.
For a third consecutive home game, the Golden Eagles topped the previous season high for 3-pointers in a game. Thursday, Southern Miss knocked down 16 of 38 treys. But as the game progressed, fatigue started to affect accuracy. Price, Jackson and forward Raheem Watts - who combined to sink 10 of USM’s treys - each played at least 43 minutes. At one point, Southern Miss had made 15 of 28 shots from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles made only one of their final 10 attempts.
“My legs, they were heavy, yeah,” said Price, who logged his third double-double of the season with 14 points and a career-high 12 assists. “But that’s no excuse.” Southern Miss came back from eight points back in the first half, 10 points down after the curtain rose on the second. UAB shoved the first four points of the first overtime down the Golden Eagles’ throats.
Southern Miss made the Blazers score the final basket of the extra period to send the game to a second one. But it wasn’t enough as UAB scored the first four points in the second overtime and held the Golden Eagles at bay over the remainder of the period.
“We had a couple shots at it, but there’s a reason they’re leading the conference,” Southern Miss coach Doc Sadler said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed we didn’t win the basketball game, but I’m proud of them, too. “But, at the same time, you play the games to win them, and we came up a little bit short. It wasn’t from a lack of effort. They just made one more play than we did.”
Both teams had four players each score at least 13 points. Each team had one player post a double-double. Jackson, who made five 3-pointers, finished with a game-high 21 points and seven of USM’s 12 steals. Watts, who was 3 of 4 from long range, had 18 points and nine rebounds. Forward Michael O’Donnell came off the bench to tie his season high with 13 points. The Blazers were led by forward Chris Cokley’s 17 points and 13 rebounds. Forward William Lee added 15 points, five assists and four blocked shots. Point guard Nick Norton added 14 points and four assists, while guard Robert Brown had 13 points and four assists. Each team shared the ball well.
“That’s something you’re not going to see every night, one team with 20 assists (UAB), and the other with 19 (Southern Miss),” Sadler said. “That’s good basketball.” UAB jumped to a 9-2 lead as Lee poured in three consecutive 3-pointers. But Watts answered with seven straight points to pull the Golden Eagles even, five minutes into the game. Price’s trey kept Southern Miss within 16-15, but UAB guard Dirk Williams had back-to-back baskets in a 7-0 run that gave the Blazers their largest lead at eight points, 23-15, near the midway mark of the first half.
The Golden Eagles continued to linger, cutting the lead to as few as four points twice, but the Blazers twice more would push the lead back to eight twice more. The last came at 35-27 with 2:11 left in the half on Cokley’s jumper just inside the lane. Southern Miss guard Michael Ramey drained a deep 3-pointer to get the Golden Eagles to 35-30 with 33.1 seconds left, but Norton drove the length of the court for a lay-in with 8 seconds that left UAB ahead 37-30 at the break.
Norton opened the second half with a 3-pointer to give the Blazers their largest lead, 40-30, but the Golden Eagles came back blazing. Watts hit a 3, followed by a trio of treys from Jackson, in a 12-0 Southern Miss run that lifted the Golden Eagles to a 42-40 lead with 16:28 to play.
Guard Robert Brown made a 3-pointer to put UAB back in front before Watts’ free throw tied that game 43-43. A Norton jumper, a Cokley free throw and then consecutive steal-sprint-slams by forward Lewis Sullivan and Williams boosted the Blazers into a 50-43 lead with 13:28 left to play.
Back came Southern Miss, using 3-pointers by O’Donnell, Jackson and swingman Quinton Campbell to fuel an 11-4 run that tied the game 54-54 before O’Donnell and Price hit treys on consecutive possessions for a 60-54 lead with 7:53 left. O’Donnell’s third 3-pointer still left the Golden Eagles ahead 63-57 before UAB came back and tied the game on Norton’s trey with 3:46 to play. Price’s jumper put Southern Miss back up 65-63, but Cokley got loose inside for a slam to tie the game with 1:01 left. Both teams missed shots in the final minute to send the game into overtime.
UAB jumped out to a 69-65 lead, but Ramey and Jackson hit 3-pointers to give USM a 71-69 lead with 1:55 left in the first extra period. Norton scored on another drive to tie the score with 1:37 to play, and looked to be heading for a go ahead breakaway layup after Price slipped on a wet spot near the top of the key and lost the ball.
But O’Donnell blocked the shot, and then scored on a left-handed layup with 12.6 seconds to play after a slick feed inside from Price. But Norton scored yet again on a driving layup, and Jackson’s shot off the left wing missed as the team’s headed to a second overtime tied 73-73. Lee and Cokley scored to open a 77-73 lead, before Price teardropped a pull-up in the lane to keep USM within 77-75. Lee slammed home a missed shot, but Price answered again with another short-range lane jumper to leave USM with 79-77.
After Lee missed a shot, USM had a chance to take the lead, but Price’s kickout pass to Ramey missed the mark and sailed out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Blazers with 17 seconds to play. Guard Hakeem Baxter made one of two free throws to leave UAB up three, and final treys by Price and Jackson missed in the end. “They’re all hard,” Sadler said. “I haven’t had an easy loss. “But this, this is hard. It’s really, really hard.”