Southern Miss clinches Sun Belt basketball championship

Published 10:27 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

SAN MARCOS, Texas — For the first time in more than 20 years — officially, at least — Southern Miss has earned a championship banner.

Felipe Haase went a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line to finish with a game-high 26 points, Denijay Harris had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Southern Miss beat Texas State 79-69 on Friday to clinch the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship.

Southern Miss (25-6, 14-4 Sun Belt) had its Conference USA regular-season title from 2014 vacated because of NCAA sanctions, so this is the program’s first conference championship since 2001. Southern Miss, which won one game in its final season as a member of C-USA in 2021-22, was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Sun Belt this year.

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Marshall had a chance to share the Sun Belt title with Southern Miss, but lost 71-67 to Old Dominion earlier Friday night. That opened the door for the Golden Eagles to take the title all for themselves, and they got the job done.

Southern Miss shot 53.3 percent from the floor in the first half and took the lead for good with an 11-1 run midway through.

After Texas State cut a 12-point halftime deficit to six early in the second half, Southern Miss went on a 15-3 run to blow it wide open. Haase’s 3-pointer with 10:20 left put the Golden Eagles ahead 61-43 and Texas State never got it back to single digits.

Haase and Harris were two of the four Southern Miss players to score in double figures. Austin Crowley finished with 17 points and Neftali Alvarez scored 15.

Mason Harrell led Texas State (13-18, 6-12) with 16 points, and Nate Martin totaled 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Southern Miss will now have a week off before its next game. The top four seeds for the Sun Belt tournament receive byes into the quarterfinals. The Golden Eagles will play in Pensacola, Florida, on March 4 at 11:30 a.m. against either Appalachian State or South Alabama.

South Alabama and Appalachian State are the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, respectively, and will play each other on March 2.

Southern Miss will likely need to win the Sun Belt tournament championship to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but did clinch a spot in the NIT with its regular-season title.

Sun Belt Conference Tournament
At Pensacola, Florida
All games streamed on ESPN+ unless noted
Tuesday, Feb. 28
Game 1 – (12) Coastal Carolina vs. (13) Arkansas State, 5 p.m.
Game 2 – (11) Texas State vs. (14) Georgia State, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 2
Game 3 – (8) South Alabama vs. (9) Appalachian State, 11:30 a.m.
Game 4 – (5) Troy vs. Winner Game 1, 2 p.m.
Game 5 – (6) Old Dominion vs. Winner Game 2, 5 p.m.
Game 6 – (7) Georgia Southern vs. (10) Louisiana-Monroe, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4
Game 7 – (1) Southern Miss vs. Winner Game 3, 11:30 a.m.
Game 8 – (4) James Madison vs. Winner Game 4, 2 p.m.
Game 9 – (3) Marshall vs. Winner Game 5, 5 p.m.
Game 10 – (2) Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Winner Game 6, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 5
Game 11 – Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 5 p.m.
Game 12 – Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, March 6
Championship game
Game 13 – Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)