HATTIESBURG – For the first 10 minutes of Thursday night's game, the Southern Miss basketball team was nowhere near the basket and searching for life.
USM trailed 17-3 at the midway point of the first half and doubt began to set in for head coach Doc Sadler.
“I'm sure a lot of people were wondering why they came,” he said. “I was wondering why I was there. I wasn't bringing much to the table at that point.”
It turned out Sadler and his Golden Eagles had a great deal more to offer.
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Southern Miss dominated the final 30 minutes of the game to pick up a 71-58 victory over UTEP before an announced crowd of 2,824 at Reed Green Coliseum.
For UTEP head coach Tim Floyd, it was another rough homecoming.
The Hattiesburg native's UTEP teams are now 0-5 in his hometown against USM. The Miners have also suffered back-to-back losses to USM via dramatic rallies.
The Eagles rallied from 24 points down in the second half to beat UTEP 63-60 in Hattiesburg last year.
Floyd showed frustration in the final moments of the game, taking back-to-back technical fouls to be ejected with 33 seconds remaining after one of his players, Earvin Morris, also took a technical.
USM point guard Khari Price stepped to the line and made six consecutive free throws to set off the celebration for the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss (6-12, 3-4) has a shot to move to .500 in league play when it hosts Texas-San Antonio at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
A USM team that is ineligible for the Conference USA tournament continues to surprise in league play.
“That would be huge (to get to .500) for a young team that started out rocky and went through some tough times,” senior point guard Khari Price said. “Just to get to that point and break .500 for the first time, that would be huge for a young team.”
Freshman guard Robert Thomas proved to be the spark USM needed off the bench with 11 points points in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Michael Ramey also pitched in a pair of 3-pointers in the first half to help USM cut the UTEP lead to 30-26 at halftime.
In the second half, it was all Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles out-scored UTEP, 45-28, in the final 20 minutes.
“I think we all knew what we had to do,” Price said. “We had the slow start, but we were one run away from getting back in it. It was just continuing defensive pressure and we got some great stops.”
Kourtlin Jackson led USM with 15 points and five rebounds after scoring only two points in the first half.
The man with the most impressive stat line Thursday night was 6-foot-7 junior guard Quinton Campbell, who finished with 13 points and team highs of nine rebounds and four assists.
“Everything was kind of in my favor a little bit,” Campbell said. “Coach talked to me all week, 'We've got to board, we've got to board.' It was mainly just work on defense and the offense will come. I relied on that a lot.”
USM forced UTEP into 17 turnovers and a second-half shooting percentage of 36.4.
After making just 5-of-19 3-point tries in the first half, USM hit 7-of-14 in the second half.
Lee Moore led UTEP (11-10, 3-5) with 18 points and nine rebounds. Earvin Morris added 13 points.
USM's Price finished with 10 points, all at the free throw line.
Saturday has been declared Clarence Weatherspoon Day on the USM campus and he will be honored during the UTSA contest.