FILE – UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said,. “I thought we were really, really prepared for the game and guarding the drive and guarding the screen and roll coverage. But they just got by us. And then the turnovers that we had…”
HATTIESBURG, MS. – Southern Miss shot 60 percent from the field, including 74 percent in the second half, and ran away to an 85-75 victory over UTEP on Thursday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Golden Eagles (8-8, 1-2 C-USA) led by as many as 23 points in beating the Miners (6-9, 1-2 C-USA) for the seventh straight time in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss is 6-0 at home this season.
“The key is 85 points for them. We’re all disappointed in that and how that happened,” UTEP Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “I thought we were really, really prepared for the game and guarding the drive and guarding the screen and roll coverage. But they just got by us. And then the turnovers that we had. We have been averaging around eight or nine the last three or four games, and now we get 17. We talked a great deal about that, taking care of the basketball, and they had 17 points off those turnovers. You take those 17 or even 15 away, and you’re looking at around 70 points. So that was the real key, just not taking care of the ball.”
The Miners, playing their first road game since Nov. 25, shot 31 percent in the first half and led only once at 2-0. Despite their struggles putting the ball in the basket, the Miners were only down four (24-20) when Tirus Smith scored a jumper with 3:31 remaining in the half. Southern Miss outscored UTEP 11-4 over the final 3:15 to take a 35-24 lead to the locker room.
“Our focus [in the first half] was that they’re so small, we wanted to get it to Tirus and he goes 1-for-5,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get it to Matt Willms down low, and he only got three shots up. They were switching guards off to our big guys but we couldn’t finish. Paul [Thomas] couldn’t finish at the rim.”
The second half was also a struggle, as it got away from the Miners after they pulled within seven (39-32) on back-to-back three pointers by Kobe Magee and Omega Harris. The Golden Eagles answered with a 14-2 run and pushed the lead to 19 (53-34). A late flurry by the Miners made the final score respectable as they trimmed a 22-point lead down to 10 in the final four and a half minutes.
UTEP shot 68 percent in the second half, but only outscored Southern Miss by one point (51-50) over the final 20 minutes.
Isiah Osborne matched his season-high with 17 points (6-for-10 FGs, 3-for-6 3FGs, 2-for-2 FTs) for UTEP. Harris and Willms scored 11 points each, and Trey Touchet added 10.
Southern Miss’ top three players – Cortez Edwards, Tyree Griffin and Dominic Magee – combined for 54 points. They made 23-of-32 shots. Edwards led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, and Griffin scored 19 points.
The Miners will conclude their first C-USA road trip of the season on Saturday at LA Tech. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. MT.