JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Southern Miss men’s basketball team fell a couple of bounces short in an intense 66-63 defeat at North Florida on Thursday night.
The Golden Eagles trailed by seven with 37 seconds left before Gabe Watson connected on a triple while drawing a foul. Following his four-point play, Southern Miss suffocated the Ospreys on the press and forced a turnover with 28 seconds remaining.
Leonard Harper-Baker’s put-back with 16 ticks left made it a 62-61 game. After the Ospreys went 2-for-2 at the line, Watson stayed clutch with two of his own in a one-and-one situation as UNF was whistled a split-second before he pulled up for a three.
The Ospreys again hit two more shots with four seconds left, and Southern Miss was unable to get off its game-tying attempt.
“We started off slow and weren’t moving the ball across the floor to soften the defense,” head coach Jay Ladner said. “It was really just one pass and a shot. Once we were able to execute our offense, we were able to chase them out of their zone, and I thought we did an excellent job attacking it from there.
“UNF got off to a fast start, but we battled back, and that’s something we’ve seen both of the last two road games. That’s a start. When you have a team that doesn’t quit, you can build off it. That’s twice in a row we had a chance to win, and we couldn’t get a shot off.”
Southern Miss continuously shook off the raucous crowd even after going scoreless the first four minutes of each half and facing a 10-point deficit in the second. UNF led 35-34 at the half.
“Give North Florida credit,” Ladner said. “They are a very experienced team that’s hard to defend. Coach [Matthew] Driscoll does a great job with them, and they can really shoot the three. They are a team that’s picked to finish at the top of their league, just like South Alabama was [last week], and they really taxed our lack of depth.”
Thirty of North Florida’s 59 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc, and the Ospreys entered the night with 99 of its 194 shots coming in that fashion. They took 33 shots when the teams met in Cancun last November, hitting six of them.
The two teams will square off again in Hattiesburg on Dec. 14. Southern Miss continues its three-game road gauntlet Tuesday at Iowa State, a campus installment of the Battle 4 Atlantis.