|Jack Duggan, Assistant Athletic Director/Media Relations
Hattiesburg, Miss. - For the first 20 minutes Saturday night at Reed Green Coliseum, Southern Mississippi had limited Middle Tennessee to eight baskets.
Then came the second half, and the Golden Eagles could do nothing in the face of a Blue Raiders’ barrage that wound up burying Southern Miss 76-54 before 2,917.
“We played as good a first-half defense as we can,” Southern Miss coach Doc Sadler said. “Then, in the second half, offensively and defensively, we were in mud.”
Southern Miss (7-16, 4-8 Conference USA) dropped its fourth consecutive game and lost by the largest margin since an 87-57 loss Jan. 2 at Louisiana Tech. MTSU (18-7, 10-3) won for the ninth time in its last 12 games.
“Give them a lot of credit, but we just wore out,” Sadler said. “Yeah, they got hot, but we just could not go.” Southern Miss was coming off Thursday’s grueling, double-overtime loss to UAB, and Sadler said he made a mistake with a lengthy Friday practice to go over MTSU’s unique tendencies. “That’s my fault, but (MTSU) does some things a little differently than anybody else in the conference,” Sadler said.
“But we lost energy (Saturday), and when we did, it just flipped.” Behind guard Michael Ramey’s 12 points off the bench on four 3-pointers and guard Kourtlin Jackson’s 10 points, Southern Miss took a 37-32 halftime lead.
The Golden Eagles hit eight treys in the opening half, shooting 53.3 percent from beyond the arc. But the Blue Raiders tore off an 18-3 run to start the second half, opening up a 10-point lead, 45-35. MTSU ripped off the half’s first five points to tie the game, and after Michael O’Donnell’s 3-pointer put Southern Miss back ahead 35-32,
Potts’ 3-pointer tied the game and a short lane shot by forward Reggie Upshaw put the Blue Raiders ahead for good, 37-35. Potts ignited an 8-0 run that Upshaw punctuated with a slam dunk, as MTSU went up 45-35 with 14:38 left in the game. Southern Miss would get no closer than seven points the rest of the game.
“It was kind of over from there,” Ramey said of the decisive run. “We tried to make a few changes, but they were just on a roll.”
MTSU made 17 of its first 22 shots to open the second half, including nine of 10 from 3-point range. Guard Edward Simpson, an Ocean Springs product, led the Blue Raiders with 19 points. Upshaw, who also grabbed eight rebounds, scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, while. Potts scored 11 of his 18 after the break. Jackson, who reached double digits for a eighth consecutive home game, led the Golden Eagles with 14 points, while Rainey added 12.