HATTIESBURG – (AP) Larry Eustachy said perhaps he intended to break one of his coaching credos Wednesday night following Southern Mississippi’s 77-69 overtime victory over Tulsa.
But none of the 3,561 at Green Coliseum were going to begrudge him if he savored the win a bit.
“I know I’ve got a grind, with two games coming up on the road,” Eustachy said. “I know that this is a long, long way from over.
“But I’m going to enjoy this one. I’m excited. I’m excited, that’s for sure.”
Southern Miss lost a 15-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play, and was down by three with 6.1 seconds left in the game.
But guard Neil Watson made a game-tying, 3-point shot with a half-second left in regulation, and the Golden Eagles – who finished the evening 31 of 35 at the free throw line – hit 5 of 6 free throws to start overtime to pull away from the Golden Hurricane for good.
“This is a special team,” Eustachy said.
And a special night for Southern Miss forward Jonathan Mills.
Mills posted his second, double-double of the season, scoring a career-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds. Before an errant floater in the lane with less than 10 seconds left in overtime, MIlls hadn’t missed a shot, making his first six shots from the floor and hitting 13 of 13 free throws.
“He’s just old-school and he’s tough,” Eustachy said after watching his 6-foot-6 junior duel inside with a much taller Tulsa front line.
The victory left the Golden Eagles (22-4, 9-2) in a first-place tie in Conference USA with Memphis (19-7, 9-2).
Tulsa (15-11, 8-4) lost for only the second time in its past 10 games.
Jordan Clarkson’s 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in regulation broke a 63-63 tie, but Watson lofted his own 3-pointer bubble with .5 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.
“Coach told me to make a play,” Watson said. “I happened to get it, and we got the win.”
Watson finished with 18 points, while Maurice Bolden added 11 points. Torye Pelham led all rebounders with 11, as the Golden Eagles outrebounded Tulsa 39-34.
Tulsa got 19 points from Scottie Haralson, while Clarkson added 17 and Steven Idlet had 10.
Mills was perfect in the first half, hitting all three of his shots from the floor and going 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.
His teammates shot just 28.5 percent from the floor (6 of 21), but the Golden Eagles made 14 of 15 free throws.
The Golden Hurricane, which shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half (13 of 26), went just twice to the line, making one.
Southern Miss, which led 34-28 at halftime, built a 15-point lead with 9:09 to play, only to see the Golden Hurricane roar back.
Haralson and Clarkson scored seven points apiece to spark an 18-2 run, with the second of Clarkson’s two free throws giving Tulsa a 55-54 lead with 4:17 to go.
From there, the teams dueled down the stretch.
With Tulsa leading 57-55, Bolden hit a jump-hook in the lane, and then dropped in a 3-pointer at the top of the bubble for a 60-57 Southern Miss lead.
Idlet had a pair of low-post baskets sandwiched around a pair of Mills free throws to get Tulsa within 62-61, and after Watson made a free throw, Clarkson drained a 3-pointer.
Watson was called for a push-off and Tulsa’s Eric McClellan followed with two free throws with 6.1 seconds to play.
That proved to be enough time for Watson to streak down court, and then pull up off the left arc to send the game into overtime.
Southern Miss took over right away, as Tulsa’s three big men, Idlet, D.J. Magley and Kodi Maduka fouled out on consecutive possessions.
Pelham hit three free throws, and LaShay Page added two more, as the Golden Eagles built a five-point lead and never were headed.
“It’s kind of magic,” Eustachy said. “I just like these guys.”