The University of Southern Mississippi ran into a University of Alabama-Birmingham team with a red-hot shooting touch Thursday night at Bartow Arena.
The Blazers fired away from the field, hitting 61.5 percent of their shots, as then withstood a second-half rally by the Golden Eagles to claim an 86-75 Conference USA victory.
UAB’s starting five combined to shoot 68.8 percent from the floor and four starters made seven baskets apiece as the Blazers (12-5, 3-1 C-USA) won their third consecutive game.
USM (9-9, 2-3), which saw a two-game winning streak snapped, made a more-than-respectable 49.9 percent of its shots from the floor and came back in the second half by knocking down 10 3-pointers over the game’s final 20 minutes.
After trailing by 19 at halftime, USM whittled away at the lead, and eventually pulled within 81-73 with about 2 minutes to play on Golden Eagles’ treys by junior guard Kevin Holland and freshman swingman LaDarius Draine sandwiched around an UAB basket.
But the Blazers scored the game’s final five points on a basket and three free throws.
The Blazers held a huge advantage from the free-throw line, making 14-of-20 attempts, while USM got to the line only twice, making both.
UAB also out-rebounded the Golden Eagles by 14 boards (33-19).
USM junior guard Tyree Griffin scored a game-high 23 points, making 9-of-16 shots, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. He also handed out seven assists.
Draine, who had appeared in just half of the Golden Eagles’ previous 10 games and scored seven points in a combined 12 minutes, poured in a career-high 19 points in career-high 23 minutes.
Draine hit 8-of-11 shots, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, added a career-high five rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Holland, who had hit 7-of-7 treys in USM’s win Saturday against the University of Texas-San Antonio, made 5-of-8 Thursday for 15 points to go with three steals and two assists.
Junior guard Cortez Edwards scored 13 points and had six rebounds and three rebounds.
Junior guard Dominic Magee, the team’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer coming into Thursday night, did not play against the Blazers. USM coach Doc Sadler made the decision to hold Magee from the game.
Magee, who had started eight of USM’s last nine games, is averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a game.
UAB senior forward William Lee sparked the Blazers early Thursday, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the first half. Lee, who made 7-of-9 shots, including his first six, finished with 16 points.
Sophomore guard Nate Darling, who was 7-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-7 from 3-point range, scored a team-high 20 points. Freshman guard Zack Bryant, who made 7-of-11 shots, finished with 19 points.
Senior forward Chris Cokley, who hit 7-of-10 shots, had 18 points and grabbed a game high eight rebounds, while junior guard Nick Norton had eight points, eight assists, five steals and a blocked shot.
USM will continue its two-game road trip with a 5 p.m. tipoff Saturday at Middle Tennessee State University (12-4, 4-0) in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The Blue Raiders are tied with Western Kentucky University atop the C-USA standings.
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