USM's NCAA hopes alive after beating UTEP

Posted by PATRICK MAGEE on March 13, 2014 

Southern Miss topped UTEP, 64-56, Thursday to advance to the Conference USA Tournament semifinals and keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

The Golden Eagles (27-5) will play the winner of Louisiana Tech-Charlotte at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in a game to be televised by CBS Sports Network.

USM's RPI ranking immediately jumped to No. 30 after the victory, giving USM one of the best RPI rankings of all teams remaining on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Golden Eagles also had one of the better victories on a day when many bubble team struggled.

USM's win Thursday was its first over UTEP in El Paso since 1950, when current UTEP coach Tim Floyd's dad, Lee Floyd, was coaching Southern Miss.

Aaron Brown was solid down the stretch, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half.

The most surprising aspect of Thursday's win was the strong play of senior forward Michael Craig, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds. He appeared very limited a week ago in a win at Tulane because of a high ankle sprain with no points and two rebounds in 10 minutes.

Craig played a lot more against UTEP and looked close to 100 percent health. He missed three of the final regular season games due to the ankle injury.

If Craig can keep up his strong play, USM will be tough to take down in El Paso.

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