Southern Miss men’s basketball head coach, former Pass Christian resident and long time St. Stanislaus High School Jay Ladner grabbed his 100th career win and his first Conference USA Tournament win on Tuesday night against UTSA (10-22, 3-15 C-USA) at The Star in Frisco.
The Golden Eagles (7-25, 1-17 C-USA) clawed back from a nine-point hole to upend the Roadrunners, 67-64, in the Opening Round matchup.
A day after earning All-Conference USA Honorable Mention, junior Tyler Stevenson poured in a team-high 22 points following a four-game absence from the lineup.
The Columbus, Miss. native put the Golden Eagles ahead by two with 47 seconds to play via an alleyoop pass from Walyn Napper, then iced the game with a free throw with 22 seconds left. Napper carried the scoring load in the first half for Southern Miss, exploding for 13 points as the two teams headed to the locker room at the break.
Jacob Germany got UTSA on the board first with a tone-setting dunk less than 10 seconds left in the game and then followed with nine of the Roadrunners’ next 11 points. The big man built a nine-point cushion for the sixth-seeded Roadrunners before Napper answered with four-straight baskets of his own. Napper cut the margin to three with a three-pointer with 5:32 to play in the first half, then Jaron Pierre, Jr. hit his first shot of the game to knot the West Division foes at 21-all. UTSA would pull back ahead by five at the half.
After going scoreless in the first half, junior DeAndre Pinckney scored the first seven points of the second half for Southern Miss to once again even the score just before the first media timeout. The Golden Eagles went on to take their first lead since the 16:04 mark on the first half when Pierre connected on a pair of free throws five minutes into the second frame. Again, and eight more times before the game was over, UTSA and Southern Miss sat tied in the scoring column.
Southern Miss’ largest lead following Pierre’s free throw was no larger than two until the final horn sounded. With 5:35 to play, UTSA went on a 6-0 run to pull ahead by four, but back-to-back baskets from Stevenson and Napper knotted the game at 56-56 with three minutes left on the clock. Southern Miss and UTSA went blow-for-blow down the stretch before Napper drew an offensive charge with 2:27 to go. The call resulted in a Pierre three-pointer on the next possession to give the Golden Eagles a two-point lead. Germany answered again, but so did Napper to sway the lead back to the Southern Miss side.
Erik Czumbel scored the final UTSA basket of the night to tie the game at 64-all with just a hair over a minute to play, but that’s when Stevenson hammered down perhaps one of the biggest dunks of his career. The freshly-minutes Howell Trophy Finalist would then hit that free throw to advance the Golden Eagles to the next round.
The win was Southern Miss’ first C-USA Tournament victory since it beat Marshall in 2019 under then-head coach Doc Sadler. The Golden Eagles went 10-of-15 from the charity strip in the second half alone to hold the advantage at the line. They also went 7-of-23 from deep to out-shoot the Roadrunners from three-point land. Pierre finished with 12 points in his first came since Feb. 21, while also going a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
Pinckney added seven points that included a massive three-pointer from NBA range to tie the game early in the second half. Redshirt freshman Jefferey Armstrong got the starting nod for the first time in his career dished out five assists in 28 minutes of action.
USM Junior Denijay Harris and freshman Rashad Bolden combined for seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor. Stevenson finished with a team-high seven rebounds, while Germany went for 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Southern Miss will now play FAU (18-13, 11-7 C-USA) on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. CST. The Owls are the third seed from the East Division.
(USM Athletics contributed to the article)