HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ As a short jump shot by University of Texas-El Paso guard Jamal Bieniemy settled into the basket with 68 seconds to play Friday night at Reed Green Coliseum, it appeared for all the world that a gritty effort by the University of Southern Mississippi was about to go for naught.
Instead, the Golden Eagles were just getting started.
USM junior forward Tyler Stevenson scored five points in a game-tying 7-0 run over the final 45 seconds of regulation, then added six free throws as the Golden Eagles dominated the extra period to pull off a 74-66 overtime victory in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
“We never gave up,” said USM freshman guard Jaron Pierre Jr., whose scoop shot, finger-roll layup with 15.3 seconds tied the game.
In a game that see-sawed throughout, Bieniemy’s bucket had given the Miners their largest lead, 60-53, with 1:08 to play.
But UTEP turned the ball over on three, consecutive possessions and USM converted all three into points: a Stevenson, three-point play; a follow basket down low by Stevenson and Pierre’s runner in the lane.
When the Miners could not get a shot off in the game’s final seconds, USM carried the momentum into overtime and outscored UTEP 14-6 in the extra period.
“UTEP is a very talented, well-coached team,” USM coach Jay Ladner said. “That comeback showed me something. I would have been proud of them even if we lost. They still defended and rebounded, and we found just enough offense to win.”
The rally allowed USM (5-3, 1-0 C-USA) to log its fourth consecutive win. UTEP 4-3, 0-1) saw a two-game winning streak snapped.
USM had four players score 11 or more points, three players grab at least 10 rebounds and two post a “double-double” on the evening.
Stevenson led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds, including five boards on the offensive end. Eleven of his points came over the final 45 seconds of regulation and overtime.
Stevenson, who hit 8-of-15 shots from the floor and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line, made 8-of-9 free throws over the final 25 minutes of play, including a 6-of-6 effort in overtime.
Pierre finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. Tae Hardy, who scored half of USM’s first eight points in overtime on two free throws and a layup, wound up with 11 points and two steals.
Junior forward DeAndre Pinckney, who returned to play just a few games ago after suffering a concussion in USM’s season-opening contest, came off the bench for his first double-double as a Golden Eagle with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior guard LaDavius Draine, who scored a season-high 21 points in his last outing, was held to six points Friday. But he pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and handed out three assists and was lauded for his defensive play by Ladner.
“LaDavius can’t jump over a piece of toast, but he had 11 rebounds,” Ladner said. “Eleven rebounds, and did everything else to help us win that game.”
USM’s defense and some sloppy execution by the Miners played huge in the Golden Eagles’ win.
UTEP shot just 36.2 percent from the floor and 21.6 percent from behind the 3-point line (5-of-23). The vile shooting carried over to the free-throw line, where the Miners made 11-of-17 shots.
“We’ve been trusting each other, talking out there, filling the gaps,” Pierre said.
UTEP got 19 points and six rebounds from Soley Boum, 18 points and seven assists from Bieniemy and Kristian Sjolund added 10.
With revised scheduling protocol set by C-USA because of the pandemic, the two teams will turn around and play at 4 p.m. Saturday.