Thursday night, the University of Southern Mississippi could not sustain the defensive effort it had shown in the first half of a Conference USA game with Old Dominion University.
Saturday evening, the Golden Eagles arguably played as well as they had in any second half this season.
USM broke away from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte soon after halftime, limiting the 49ers to four points in a 10-minute, 6-second, span of the second half before rolling to a 72-54 C-USA victory at Reed Green Coliseum.
The 54 points were the fewest the Golden Eagles had allowed in a conference game this season and tied for the fewest allowed against a Division I opponent.
“I thought Thursday, the first half was about as good as we can play on defense,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “Today, I thought the second half was about as good as we can play defense.
“If can ever put those two halves together…”
The Golden Eagles (13-13, 6-7 C-USA) bounced back from their first home loss of the season Thursday night to win for the 10th time in 11 games at Green Coliseum.
Still wading through the difficulties wrought when NCAA sanctions were leveled against a previous coaching regime, USM has reached double-digit wins for the first time in Sadler’s four seasons, though four wins this season have come against schools from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The six C-USA wins tie the number Sadler’s Golden Eagles reached last season, and USM has five conference games left on its regular-season schedule.
The 49ers (5-18, 1-11), who have won just once since the calendar flipped to 2018, lost its 10th consecutive game.
USM led 24-10 early, only to seemingly lose focus and allow the 49ers to close to within four points on three occasions in the waning minutes of the first half before a layup by junior guard Tyree Griffin left the Golden Eagles ahead 30-24 at halftime.
Charlotte center Jailan Haslem hit a free throw and bucket down low to open the second half and pull the 49ers within 30-27 with 18:20 left in the game.
But senior guard D’Angelo Richardson dropped a 3-point rainbow while getting decked in front of the USM bench and slipped in the free throw to complete the rare, four-point play and ignite a 14-2 run that left the Golden Eagles up by 15 points, 44-29.
After a slam dunk by freshman forward Milos Supica accounted for only the second Charlotte basket of the second half, USM junior guard Dominic Magee scored six points in an 8-0 spurt that lifted the Golden Eagles into a 21-point lead, 52-31.
Over that span of 10:06, USM outscored Charlotte 22-4, with 49ers managing just one basket. Over the first 12:06 of the second half, Charlotte scored seven points and was just 2-of-12 from the floor.
“That second half, we got to clicking pretty good,” Sadler said. “We had a couple of huge plays there, with D’Angelo’s 4-point play being huge.”
USM led by as many 30 points, 72-42, with 2:33 to play after LaDavius Draine knocked down the third of his 3-pointers.
After Sadler emptied his bench, Charlotte wound up scoring the game’s final 12 points.
Junior guard Cortez Edwards surpassed the 800-career-point mark with 12 points and logged his fifth double-double of the season by grabbing 10 rebounds. Edwards also crammed the stat sheet with six assists and five steals.
Magee added 12 points and five rebounds, Draine had 10 and Griffin finished with eight points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals.
All told, USM dished out 19 assists on 26 baskets and committed just seven turnovers to Charlotte’s 16.
USM’s post game got a boost from juniors Tim Rowe and Eddie Davis III, who combined to make 7-of-8 shots from the field, score 19 points and grab six rebounds. Rowe has come off the bench to score 10 points in back-to-back games.
Charlotte junior guard Jon Davis scored a game 20 points, with half coming in the game’s final 2:15.
The Golden Eagles remain home next week for a pair of home contests, starting at 7 p.m. Thursday when Middle Tennessee State University visits Green Coliseum. The Blue Raiders defeated USM 69-49 on Jan. 13 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
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