Toledo put together a valiant second-half comeback, but Southern Mississippi held off the hard-charging Rockets to post a 66-59 victory Wednesday evening in a first-round National Invitation Tournament contest at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, Miss.UT finishes its season with a school-record 27 victories, while the Golden Eagles improved to 28-6 and will visit Missouri Sunday, March 23, for a second-round NIT matchup.
Junior guard Julius Brown topped the Rocket attack with a game-high 19 points followed by junior guard Justin Drummond (14 points), senior guard Rian Pearson (13 points) and sophomore center Nathan Boothe (10 points).
Senior forward Michael Craig paced a balanced Southern Miss offense with 16 points and a game-high nine boards, while senior guard Neil Watson, senior guard Jerrold Brooks and junior forward Aaron Brown contributed 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Southern Mississippi, which held a 46.0-41.8 advantage in the shooting department, controlled the boards with a 39-29 advantage on the glass.
Toledo trailed by a 34-19 margin at the half, but came out and scored 11 straight points out of the locker room to reduce the deficit to 34-30.
UT eventually took its first lead of the game, 41-40, with 12:55 to play following seven straight points from Pearson. A Boothe jumper increased the lead to 43-40, but the Eagles answered with four straight to regain a one-point advantage.
Brown’s driving layup put the Rockets back in front, and freshman guard Jordan Lauf’s corner jumper made it a 47-44 contest with 8:25 left.
The Golden Eagles then reeled off a 10-2 spurt to assume a 54-49 cushion they wouldn’t relinquish.