HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Southern Mississippi went down 17 points in the opening nine minutes, but became the first team to make SIU's men's basketball team look like a bunch of newcomers Saturday afternoon.
With a full-court press the Salukis could only intermittently figure out at the Reed Green Coliseum, the Golden Eagles turned 18 turnovers into 20 points and held on for a 72-69 victory. Leonard Harper-Baker, the only senior Southern Miss played, scored 20 points, and the Eagles won their first game over a Division I opponent this season without a field goal over the last 4 minutes and 43 seconds.
"Some senior mistakes. It was all five guys," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said. "We broke it the first five times, and then I think we got casual. We gotta do a better job of competing on every single possession, and that's the biggest thing with these guys. Especially guys who haven't had Division I experience. They just don't know how important every single possession is. You give up a couple here, now they got their heads up, they're making 3s and it changed the game."
Marcus Domask, a freshman guard who spearheaded SIU's four wins about as much as anyone, scored 17 points to lead the Salukis (4-6) but missed a game-tying 3-pointer off the side of the rim at the horn. Domask made 6 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 6 behind the arc, but had a critical turnover on SIU's second-to-last possession that proved costly.
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Domask appeared to have an angle to the basket on the right side of the lane, but tried to find Eric McGill to his left. Southern Miss guard LaDavius Draine, who had two of the Eagles' 13 steals, tipped the pass and gathered it to protect a one-point lead. Domask fouled him with six seconds to play, and Draine made both free throws to stretch the lead to three.
SIU got the ball across the half-court line and called timeout with four seconds to go and got Domask, its best 3-point shooter this season, a good look from the top of the key. His shot had the distance, but bounced off the rim's left side, and with it, SIU's last chance to earn its first true road win of the season.
Harwin Francois scored 14 points off the bench and McGill scored 12 points, led the Salukis with six rebounds, had four assists and added three steals. Domask, SIU starting center Barret Benson and freshman guard Trent Brown, one of the best players in Division I taking care of the ball this season, all had four turnovers. The Salukis finished with 10 assists on 21 buckets and shot 48.8% themselves.
"We knew their press. We played it in scout all week in practice. Just mental mistakes that we shouldn't have had happen," Francois said. "They were pressing on the second pass out of it, and we knew it was coming. We have to look at it, and then a guy is supposed to flash middle, but it was just mental mistakes that shouldn't have happened."
SIU entered the game giving away only 11.9 possessions a game on average, 55th-best in the country. The Salukis also entered with one of the best scoring defenses in the country, allowing just 61.8 points per game (50th nationally), but with Southern Miss converting layup after layup, they finished the game a staggering 27 of 47 from the field (57.4%). They made 13 of 21 from the field in the second half (61.9%).
Even without starting forward Boban Jacdonmi, the Eagles' leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, who missed his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, Southern Miss became the first team this season to shoot over 50% from the field against the Salukis.
"I was really pleased that we found a way to win, because it certainly was looking dark for the last couple of minutes, that we were going to give the lead away," Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. "You have to give them credit. They took advantage of some things that happened out there and made some key free throws."
On Twitter: @THefferman