Southern Miss loses in Conference USA semifinals

Published 8:11 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

FRISCO, Texas — Southern Miss was unable to turn its comeback season into a championship one.

Charles Bassey had 10 points and 14 rebounds to lift Western Kentucky to a 70-59 win over Southern Miss in the Conference USA Conference Tournament semifinals on Friday.

Western Kentucky (20-13) advanced to Saturday night’s championship game against regular-season champion Old Dominion. Old Dominion beat UAB 61-59 in the other semifinal Friday.

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Western Kentucky lost to Marshall in last year’s championship game, and guard Taveion Hollingsworth said the Hilltoppers are motivated to get the job done this time.

“That means a lot, especially with the way we went out last year,” said Hollingsworth, who scored 17 points against Southern Miss. “Nobody wants to go through that. No one wants to feel that again, so we’re going to come out with energy, and we’re going to play hard.”

Southern Miss’ record dropped to 20-12 — its first winning record since 2013-14 — although its NCAA Tournament hopes ended. They still are holding out hopes of playing in either the NIT or College Basketball Invitational.

The Golden Eagles needed to win the C-USA Tournament to make the Big Dance, and were one win away from at least playing for the championship. A late fade in the second half Friday ended those hopes.

Tyree Griffin’s three-point play with 9:20 remaining in the game put Southern Miss ahead 48-46. The Golden Eagles then missed six consecutive shots and only made three of their last 19 from the field.

Western Kentucky took the lead for good on a layup by Bassey with 7:29 left, and gradually pulled away from there during USM’s shooting slump.

Griffin scored 19 points and four assists for Southern Miss to set USM’s single-season record for assists with 223. He also had eight turnovers.

The Golden Eagles shot 47.8 percent from the field in the first half, but only 31.3 percent in the second. They finished with more 3-pointers (11) than two-point field goals (10) in the game.

“The things that we take pride in is not turning the basketball over and taking care of the paint, and that’s something we didn’t do today,” coach Doc Sadler said. “When you play in big ball games, that’s something you have to do. Give them credit, they got a heck of a basketball team. They cause a lot of problems with their size and athleticism.”