Aaron Brown and Matt Bingaya established career-highs with 24 and 21 points respectively, as Southern Miss rallied on its home floor once again to beat UTEP, 77-68, on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
For the third straight time, the Miners (20-8, 10-3 C-USA) had a decent lead in the second half at Reed Green Coliseum but couldn't come away with a victory. They were up by 13 points on the Golden Eagles in the second period in 2011, nine points in 2013 and nine points on Saturday.
In their last three trips to Hattiesburg, the Miners have outscored the Golden Eagles 89-73 in the first half and have gotten outscored 113-69 in the second half.
The Golden Eagles (23-5, 10-3 C-USA) outscored the Miners 46-30 in the second half on Saturday after trailing by as many as 12 points in the first 20 minutes.
"Southern Miss did a fine job in the second half of playing with more physicality than we did," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "They rebounded better than we did. They got to loose balls better than we did. They had a lot of second chance opportunities."
Shooting for an eighth straight conference road win that would break the school record, the Miners came out sharp. They took their largest lead of the half, 31-19, on a Julian Washburn dunk with 3:25 remaining in the half.
Southern Miss outscored the Miners 7-3 in the last minute and a half of the period, trimming an 11-point deficit down to seven (38-31).
UTEP shot 56 percent in the first half and held Southern Miss to 41.7 percent. The Miners came out of halftime with nobody in serious foul trouble.
That changed in a hurry.
Matt Willms picked up two fouls - his third and fourth respectively - in the first two minutes of the half. Cedrick Lang picked up two fouls - his third and fourth respectively - in the first three minutes of the second half.
"They drove us early and we picked up fouls on our big guys, which really affected the game in the second half," Floyd said.
Then the Golden Eagles started raining in three pointers - particularly from Brown, who finished 5-for-9 from beyond the arc (3-for-5 in the second half).
Brown hit triples on back-to-back possessions at the 16:00 and 15:20 mark of the second half. Suddenly the UTEP lead was down to three (47-44).
Then, after the Miners pushed the lead to five (49-44) on a jumper by John Bohannon with 14:13 to go, the Golden Eagles went on a 12-3 run. Neil Watson's three pointer, with 12:32 to go, put Southern Miss in the lead (51-49) for the first time since it was 16-15.
UTEP went up 57-56 on a Vince Hunter free throw with 8:34 left. That was the Miners' last lead of the game.
A crucial juncture started with 5:34 remaining, when the Golden Eagles, ahead by two (62-60), triggered an 8-2 run with a jumper by Deonte Houston.
Jerrold Brooks and Brown both hit three pointers during the spurt. UTEP was down 70-62 with 3:40 on the clock and all but out of it.
Southern Miss shot 53.6 percent in the second half and made 6-of-10 three pointers.
The biggest problem was Southern Miss, with no player taller than 6-7, outrebounding the Miners 32-29, leading to 14 second chance points. The Golden Eagles also scored 15 of their 22 points off turnovers in the second half.
"They played better than we did in all areas," Floyd said. "We gave up too high of a percentage from the field and the three-point line."
Hunter was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, scoring 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting both from the field and the line. He matched his career high with 26 points. Bohannon and Washburn joined him in double figures with 12 points each.
"Vince Hunter played well, but I'm sure he'd like to have a win versus his point total. He did a nice job," Floyd said. "Julian Washburn and C.J. Cooper both did a fine job defensively up front on [Jerrold] Brooks and [Neil] Watson, two guys that make them work. We did a good job on [Daveon] Boardingham. We got killed by guys like Chip Armelin and Brown and Bingaya, guys who have kind of been auxiliary players for their team."
The Miners, who hadn't allowed more than 61 points in a conference road game this season, yielded 77 - the second-most they have given up in a C-USA contest this season.
UTEP is tied for second place in C-USA with three teams (Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Tulsa) with a fast and furious finish to the regular season ahead. The Miners have three games left. They'll host Tulsa on "Senior Night" for Bohannon and Tyler Tafoya on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. before hitting the road for games at North Texas (March 2) and UTSA (March 6). The top four teams in C-USA earn a double-bye to the league tournament March 11-15 in El Paso.