HATTIESBURG, MS (WLBT) - Leonard Harper-Baker recorded career-highs of 18 points and 15 rebounds, the latter being the most by a Golden Eagle since Jonathan Mills in 2013, but WKU’s 34-21 halftime lead was too much for Southern Miss to overcome in a 66-63 defeat Thursday night.
"First off, it's a home game in the league and to win a championship, you have to defend your home court," head coach Doc Sadler said. "I thought in the first half we were soft and not the aggressive basketball team we had been. Sometimes the zone will make you do that. Going into the game, the biggest key is that I didn't think they could beat us from the perimeter. They had six three-pointers, two of them late, but we had to eliminate the paint and not give up easy baskets. They had 26 points there in the first half."
Southern Miss led 12-8 before the Hilltoppers went on an 8-0 run. The Golden Eagles were also held without a field goal for the final 2:35 as WKU scored the last six points of the period to take its 13-point lead at the break.
LaDavius Draine connected on four consecutive three-point attempts from 15:53 to 11:09 that dropped the deficit from 44-31 to 47-44, the former matching the Hilltoppers' largest lead of the night. Southern Miss only got within three points once, but WKU answered with an alley-oop and triple that pushed the lead back to 57-49 at 8:46. The Golden Eagles trailed by four with 3:25 and 1:19 left. Tyree Griffin added a triple just before the final buzzer.
"The bottom line is that it's disappointing," Sadler said. "WKU has a nice basketball team. Charles Bassey is a load, but I'm just disappointed that we didn't do a better job at guarding the paint."
The Golden Eagles improved their shooting from 32 to 49 percent in the second half. WKU went from 44 to 48 percent.
Southern Miss (11-9, 3-5 C-USA) remains at home Saturday to host Marshall at 4 p.m. CT.
-Cortez Edwards' team-high eight assists marked the fifth time in his career (second time this season) he's had that many against C-USA competition.
-Tyree Griffin's five assists puts him in a tie for No. 10 all-time in school history with Kenny Siler (333 from 1983-87).
-LaDavius Draine's five three-pointers matched a career-high set on Jan. 12 against UAB.
-Leonard Harper-Baker's 18 points and 15 rebounds gives him two double-doubles (also versus UAB).