HATTIESBURG, Ms. – Keaton Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson combined for 52 points, but Southern Miss overcame a cold start from the floor in a 78-71 victory over UTSA on Thursday night in Conference USA action at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Golden Eagles missed 18 of their first 23 shot attempts, but used a stretch of 10 straight and 16 of 20 makes to rally for their fifth straight win and improve to 16-9 overall and 8-5 in league play. Cortez Edwards led Southern Miss with 24 points after making 11 of 17 from the field, while Leonard Harper-Baker posted a double-double of 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Wallace scored a game-high 27 — the 14th 20-point game of his sophomore season — and Jackson poured in 25, topping 20 points for the 18th time this season and 32nd time in his career, to lead the Roadrunners, who fell to 15-11 overall and 9-4 in league play.
UTSA led by as many as 13 points in the first half but found itself trailing by 17 with a little more than 11 minutes to play before climbing all the way back to make it a one-possession game late.
Staring at a 61-44 USM lead, Giovanni De Nicolao had four points during a 6-0 run to help cut the deficit to 11.
Jackson hit a corner three and the sophomore from Puerto Rico drained a floater on the next possession to pull UTSA within 64-58 with 6:12 remaining.
Wallace then came up with a steal and was fouled, and the Dallas native made both free throws to make it a four-point contest.
Another Jackson basket made it 66-62 at the five-minute mark and after a LaDavius Draine free throw, Atem Bior’s layup made it a three-point game with 4:11 left to play.
Draine responded with a three from the left wing and jumpers by Harper-Baker and Edwards helped push the Southern Miss lead to 74-66 with a little more than a minute remaining.
Jackson was fouled on an attempt from downtown and made all three at the line, making it 76-71 with 26 ticks on the clock, but Harper-Baker converted 2 of 4 free throws in the final seconds to help seal the win.
Keyed by 38 points in the paint, the Golden Eagles shot 46 percent (28-61) for the game and made 5 of 13 (38 percent) from beyond the arc. Tyree Griffin joined Edwards and Harper-Baker in double figures with 18 points on a 6-of-12 shooting night.
UTSA shot just 37 percent (23-62) overall and 26 percent (7-27) from long distance but did convert 18 of 22 (82 percent) at the free-throw line.
Jackson made four of his first five shots from the floor to help stake the Roadrunners to an early lead. He hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline and a long three from the top of the key on back-to-back possessions to hand UTSA a 14-6 lead seven and a half minutes into the contest.
Wallace knocked down his second trey of the game near the midway point of the half and Byron Frohnen then drained a jumper in the lane with the shot clock winding down to push the advantage to double digits at 21-8.
UTSA led by as many as 13 before USM cut the deficit to five after a pair of Kevin Holland free throws at the four-minute mark capped a 6-1 spurt and made it 26-21.
Back-to-back steals by the Golden Eagles led to a pair of layups that made it a one-point contest. After UTSA missed a jumper, Draine gave them a 29-28 lead on a layup with less than a minute on the clock. The two teams then traded threes in the waning seconds to provide the 32-31 halftime margin.
The Golden Eagles scored the first seven points of the second half and eventually took a 46-35 lead on an Edwards 3-pointer from the right wing at the 16:27 mark. After a Nick Allen basket at the other end, a Griffin jumper finished off a stretch of 10 straight made field goals for the home team dating back to 1:48 mark of the opening half.
The Golden Eagles notched their largest lead at 61-44 when Edwards drained a jumper from the left elbow with a little more than 11 minutes left to play before UTSA started to rally.
The Roadrunners will travel to Ruston, La., to face Louisiana Tech (16-10, 6-7) on Saturday, Feb. 16. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at Thomas Assembly Center.