CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Anyone watching Charlotte basketball this year has seen glimpses of what the 49ers could be. The signs of the team they still are – unfortunately for Charlotte’s fans and coaching staff – show up from time to time, as well.
Southern Miss withstood a lengthy Charlotte run, then got a Tyree Griffin three-pointer from near the top of the key with two seconds remaining to pull out a late, 63-60, Conference USA victory in front of an announced crowd of 3,889 in Halton Arena.
“I think today was a perfect example of kind of what beating yourself looks like,” Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez said after the game. “When you’re a team like ours, the margin of error is very, very small. In stretches when the game’s on the line, you can’t give up possessions.”
Much of the first half played exactly to Charlotte’s liking. Both defenses keyed in on the opposing offenses, limiting scoring to a slow trickle. Southern Miss (11-7, 3-3 C-USA) missed its first six three-point attempts, before canning its final three in sequence to close the half. A Griffin triple seized back the lead from the Niners at 20-18, with Kevin Holland and Anfernee Hampton adding makes to help provide the Golden Eagles a 27-22 advantage at the break. The visitors’ defense held Charlotte to just 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) from the field in the half.
Charlotte (4-12, 1-4) charged out of the locker room and quickly regained control of the contest. After a Holland three that pushed the Southern Miss lead to eight, the Niners unleashed a 19-2 run that was capped by a Jon Davis trey, which forced a timeout from Golden Eagles coach Doc Sadler. Sadler’s club righted the ship out of the timeout, answering each Charlotte conversion. The gradual USM ascent reached its peak on a three-point play by Leonard Harper-Baker, returning the lead to the visitors at 51-49 with just over eight minutes to play.
USM then pushed its lead to seven, looking to finally put away the game. Charlotte had one more run, though. A Cooper Robb three-pointer launched a 9-2 burst that was capped by a game-tying Jon Davis jumper with 1:05 to play. Charlotte forced a miss on the ensuing possession, but could not capitalize on its next trip down the floor.
That set the stage for Griffin’s final bucket.
After dribbling out the majority of the possession, Griffin attacked from the top of the key, dribbled left, took a step left and back, then swished the game-winner. Charlotte’s final attempt fell short of the basket, as the Golden Eagles celebrated the victory.
“He said that if they opened the lane, try to get fouled and score,” Griffin told Southern Miss’ sports information department after the game. “I saw that they overplayed (guard) Cortez (Edwards), so I took the shot. A win is great, but on the road is even better.”
“You’ve gotta give Tyree credit. He held onto it like he was supposed to and (jumped) in there with a big shot,” Sadler added. “So many times he’s been in a situation where we’ve asked him to do so much late. You worry about him not having any legs left. It was just a huge shot.”
Charlotte rebounded from its first-half struggles to hit 54.2 percent (13-for-24) of its shots in the closing stanza. Turnovers doomed the Niners in key stretches, however, as Charlotte committed seven of its 12 turnovers in the period, leading to 13 of the 19 points Southern Miss converted off miscues.
“When we watch the video, the one lesson that’s going to be learned is that we have to continue to learn how to eliminate losing by the things that we can control,” said Sanchez. The Niners’ coach mentioned ball handling and decision making as being keys among those opportunities for his team.
Davis paced Charlotte with 20 points, countering a 4-for-14 shooting effort from the floor with 10 makes in 11 tries from the free throw line. Guard Jaylan McGill tied his career-high, which he set just under a month ago against TCU, scoring 13 on 5-for-7 from the field. Robb added 12 for the Niners.
Holland’s 14 led four Golden Eagles in double figures. Harper-Baker contributed 12, with Griffin and LaDavius Draine adding 10 apiece. USM shot 43.1 percent (25-for-58) for the game.
Southern Miss now travels to Norfolk, Va. to take on Old Dominion in Conference USA play Saturday afternoon. Charlotte hosts Louisiana Tech Saturday afternoon. Both games are scheduled to tip at 4:00 (Eastern).
SOUTHERN MISS 63, CHARLOTTE 60
SOUTHERN MISS (10-7, 2-3 C-USA): Rowe 3-5 1-1 7, Harper-Baker 5-6 2-2 12, Edwards 3-12 1-2 7, Holland 5-11 0-0 14, Griffin 4-13 0-0 10, Daniel 0-0 0-0 0, Watson 0-2 0-0 0, Draine 4-7 0-0 10, Hampton 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 25-58 4-5 63.
CHARLOTTE (4-11, 1-3 C-USA): Supica 1-3 2-4 4, McGill 5-7 0-0 13, Davis 4-14 10-11 20, Robb 4-10 2-3 12, Younger 4-9 1-1 9, Haslem 1-1 0-2 2, Blight 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-2 0-0 0, Mangum 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 15-21 60.
Halftime — Southern Miss 27-22. 3-Point Goals—Southern Miss 9-22 (Rowe 0-1, Edwards 0-2, Holland 4-8, Griffin 2-5, Watson 0-2, Draine 2-3, Hampton 1-1), Charlotte 7-24 (McGill 3-5, Davis 2-7, Robb 2-7, Younger 0-2, Martin 0-1, Mangum 0-1). Fouled Out — Drainel (USM). Rebounds —Charlotte 34 (Supica 9), Southern Miss 28 (Edwards 9). Assists — Southern Miss 16 (Griffin 6), Charlotte 7 (Davis/Robb/Younger 2). Total Fouls — Southern Miss 16, Charlotte 10. Technical — NA. A — 3889.
Points in the Paint —Southern Miss 28, Charlotte 18. Points off Turnovers —Southern Miss 19, Charlotte 5. Second-Chance Points — Southern Miss 10, Charlotte 9. Fast Break Points —Southern Miss 6, Charlotte 0. Bench Points — Southern Miss 13, Charlotte 2.