KINGSTON, R.I. - Southern Miss got balanced scoring before holding off a late push to defeat Rhode Island, 77-64, Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, Southern Miss improved to 12-2 while Rhode Island fell to 7-6.
Michael Craig led the Golden Eagles with his third double-double of the year and fourth of his career, scoring a season-high 14 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Neil Watson also scored 14 points. Aaron Brown scored 13 and Jerrold Brooks chipped in 11. Daveon Boardingham had eight points and eight boards and Jeremiah Eason added eight points.
Southern Miss led 35-34 at the half. After Craig hit a jumper, E.C. Matthews drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 37. After the teams traded basket, the Golden Eagles went on an 8-0 run, capped off by a driving layup from Watson, giving Southern Miss a 47-39 lead just 3:12 into the second half.
T.J. Buchanan hit one-of-two free throws, but Deonte Houston hit a jumper. Matthews then hit another three, cutting the deficit to six points. Southern Miss then scored six of the next seven points to take a 56-44 lead with 12:03 to play.
Rhode Island hung around, as the Black and Gold could not get past a 12-point lead. With 7:37 to play, Watson hit two free throws to make it a 64-53 lead. But, URI got hot scoring nine straight points to cut the deficit to 64-62 with 5:15 remaining.
That's when Southern Miss clamped down. Craig hit one-of-two free throws and Watson hit a pair. After a stop, Brooks connected on a sweeping layup, then forced a steal and hit Craig for a layup to make it 71-62.
After the Rams had two chances at a basket, Brown was fouled and hit both from the charity stripe. Craig then hit two more free throws with 53 seconds remaining to cap off an 11-0 run and put the game away.
Southern Miss got things going early, making three of its first five shots to take an 8-2 lead just 3:57 into the game. However, the Golden Eagles missed six of their next seven shots, as URI went on a 15-4 run over the next 5:18 to take a 17-12 lead.
The teams traded a pair of free throws before Boardingham and Craig hit layups to cut the deficit to 19-18. Gilvydas Biruta hit a layup, but the teams again traded free throws. Eason then then connected on a three-point play to tie the game at 23 with 6:22 to play in the half.
Biruta hit one-of-two free throws and after a turnover by Chip Armelin, Jarelle Reischel hit a three to push the URI lead to 27-23. But Brooks keyed a 7-0 run, as Southern Miss to a 30-27 lead.
Rhode Island tied the game at 30 with 2:28 remaining in the half off a Reischel free throw and a jumper from Buchanan. Matt Bingaya hit a slashing layup and Brooks drained Southern Miss first' three of the game to give it a five-point lead, but the Rams closed the half with four points to trail by one at the break.
Southern Miss shot 51.0-percent (25-of-49 for the game, but was just 2-of-7 (28.6%) from three. Rhode Island connected on 19-of-46 (41.3%) from the floor, including 8-of-21 (38.1%) from three. The Golden Eagles also won the rebounding battle in a big way, 37-to-22.
Matthews and Xavier Munford each had 17 points for the Rams. Buchanan added 10 points.
Southern Miss closes non-conference play next Friday, Jan. 3, when it hosts Drexel. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.