South Alabama upsets Southern Miss in Sun Belt Tournament

Published 3:08 pm Saturday, March 4, 2023

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Throughout its magical season, one of the teams that seemed to perplex Southern Miss’ men’s basketball team was South Alabama.

That stayed true right up until the end.

South Alabama shot 61.5 percent from the field and made six 3-pointers in the second half as it beat Southern Miss 78-61 in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Saturday.

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South Alabama (18-15) advanced to the semifinals on Sunday against either James Madison or Troy. It won for the seventh time in eight games.

Southern Miss (25-7) likely had its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed, although it has an automatic bid to the NIT in hand thanks to winning the Sun Belt’s regular-season championship.

“We still have some basketball left,” Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. “I look forward to playing in the NIT. Our guys are hurt and crushed, to be honest with you, right now. But we do have some basketball left and they’ll respond the right way.

South Alabama blew out Southern Miss by 31 points when the teams played in Mobile in mid-February. The Golden Eagles won in Hattiesburg in January, but had to scratch and claw for a 76-72 victory. Seeing the Jaguars again in the conference tournament, Ladner said, was not something he relished.

“I told (South Alabama coach Richie Riley) before the game, that’s one heckuva reward for being the No. 1 seed is having to play you guys. How in the heck did they finish eighth? I say that with respect to South Alabama,” Ladner said.

Southern Miss led by one at halftime, and neither team led by more than five in the second half until South Alabama got hot late.

A 3-pointer by Owen White with 7:09 remaining snapped a 49-all tie and ignited a decisive 20-2 run. South Alabama made its last nine shots from the field, and went 12-for-15 from the free throw line in the last eight minutes.

Southern Miss, meanwhile, missed nine consecutive shots over a span of about five minutes.

“South Alabama does a great job of playing with a lead. When we would overcommit to help they would make us pay,” Ladner said. “During that stretch I didn’t realize it was 9-for-9 but I knew it was pretty significant.”

White finished with 23 points for South Alabama, and Isaiah Moore and Greg Parham II scored 17 apiece. Moore also had seven assists.

Denijay Harris led Southern Miss with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Felipe Haase had 18 points and seven rebounds. Austin Crowley also scored 13 points and DeAndre Pinckney grabbed nine rebounds.

Southern Miss was 19-for-21 at the free throw line, but just 19-for-51 (37.3 percent) from the field and 4-for-17 from 3-point range. It made 1 of 10 3-point attempts in the second half.

The Golden Eagles also committed 16 turnovers that led to 25 points for South Alabama.

“I didn’t think we did a great job of getting the ball into transition. We’re usually at our best in transition, and we didn’t get into our flow offense enough. I thought we were relying too much on our sets and individual play,” Ladner said. “Any time you’re talking about offensive execution, that sits on the head coach. That was my fault.”