HATTIESBURG, MISS. – UTEP’s Omega Harris and Dominic Artis combined for 49 points, but Southern Miss converted 16 Miner turnovers into 24 points and raced to a 73-65 victory on Saturday afternoon in Hattiesburg.
The Golden Eagles (5-10, 2-1 C-USA) have strung together consecutive wins following a nine-game losing streak. UTEP (2-13, 0-3 C-USA) has lost 12 straight games.
“It kind of seems right now that every possession is so huge and every missed opportunity is even bigger,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We had chances in the second half. It seems like if you miss a free throw, it’s a big deal. You come down and try to enter into offense and you throw it away, it’s a big deal. If you don’t block out on a free throw, it’s a big deal. Every possession is so huge for our team because we are really lacking playmakers right now. We don’t have enough guys that can go get that second chance offensive board, we don’t have enough guys that can go make plays off the dribble and go get fouled.”
The Miners couldn’t get to the line in the first half. In the second half they went to the line 19 times, making 12, and held Southern Miss to 39.3 percent shooting. That was good enough to play the Golden Eagles to a 34-34 draw, but not enough to carve into a 39-31 halftime deficit.
UTEP got down by 11 early in the second half. The Miners scored the next seven points to make it 48-44, but couldn’t get closer.
Another key stretch came midway through the second half when, after Harris’ free throw made it a six-point game (54-48), Southern Miss’ Robert Thomas nailed a three-pointer.
Finally, with UTEP trailing by six (69-63) and under two minutes left, Artis and Harris missed a series of shots that could’ve made things interesting had they gone down.
The duo shot a combined 19-for-41 from the field, 4-for-19 from three-point range and 7-for-12 from the line as Harris scored a career-high 26 points, and Artis added 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals.
“I applaud the fact that Dominic and Omega played very hard today,” Floyd said. “We had a couple of possessions that they’d like to have back, a turnover here, a turnover there, a couple of missed free throws here and there. But they’re not perfect, they’re going to make a mistake or two.”
The rest of the Miners combined for five field goals.
“Just look at the boxes from the last couple of games,” Floyd said. “We don’t have enough guys that can go score for us right now. We had four guys score over in our last ballgame [at LA Tech Thursday] and didn’t have a whole lot more here today.”
The Miners went on a 9-2 run early in the first half to take a 13-10 lead. The game was closely contested for most of the period until the Golden Eagles outscored the Miners 9-2 over the final 3:01 to go into the locker room up eight. Artis ended a string of nine consecutive points for the Golden Eagles by banking in a jumper right before the buzzer.
Matt Willms, who sprained his ankle early in the second half of Thursday’s game, was in the starting lineup and gutted out 24 minutes with six points and seven rebounds.
“It was obvious that he was hurting,” Floyd said. “You watched his shots, they were flat, he had no elevation, he couldn’t get off the floor. He limped, he couldn’t recover defensively. Things were happening behind him in the zone. We thought we could protect him in the zone. But I do admire the fact that he tried to play.”
Quinton Campbell scored 24 points with 10 rebounds for Southern Miss. Cortez Edwards scored 17 points.
The Golden Eagles shot 46.3 percent and scored 30 points in the paint.
“We’ve got Matt Willms who can’t play man for long. He doesn’t have the stamina,” Floyd said. “We had Jake Flaggert in foul trouble, Paul Thomas in foul trouble. We don’t have the bodies to go play man right now. We can play it for a little while. But as soon as the fouls creep up, it forces us to go back there and sit in the zone. I can’t stand playing it, but we have to address what we have and try to give our guys a chance to win.”
UTEP will be home for seven of its next nine games, starting on Thursday when it hosts FIU. The Miners will also host Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Tip-off for both games is at 7 p.m.