HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Larry Eustachy watched with a big grin as his players jumped into the stands, waving towels and celebrating with the student section after Southern Mississippi beat Central Florida (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) 86-69 on Saturday.
Like everyone else in black and gold, he was enjoying the program's first victory over a ranked opponent at Reed Green Coliseum in a quarter century.
But that pride shouldn't be confused with surprise. Instead, the seventh-year Golden Eagles coach said it's an indication of things to come.
"Southern Miss is here," Eustachy said.
R.L. Horton scored 18 points and D.J. Newbill added 17 as the Golden Eagles beat a ranked team for the first time since 2004 and the first time on their home court since 1986.
It was a crucial victory for Southern Miss, which is expected to compete for the conference title and has another showdown looming with Memphis.
"It's a great win -- a good move for our program. We can't rest, because we've got another big one on Wednesday. But we've got a good team," Eustachy said.
Horton was terrific during the decisive stretch, hitting a 3-pointer, completing a conventional three-point play and throwing a perfect alley-oop pass for a thunderous dunk by Flowers.
"We kept tying it up and pulling ahead, tying it up and going behind," Horton said. "Finally, we got in the huddle and decided we need to go on and pull away, and from that point on we were just playing with another level of intensity."
UCF (14-2, 1-2) has lost two in a row after starting the season on a school-record 14-game winning streak. The Knights, who earned the first national ranking in program history on Dec. 20, will likely fall out of the polls.
Marcus Jordan, the son of NBA great Michael Jordan, scored 15 first-half points and finished with a team-high 20 for UCF. But after a strong start, he went only 2 of 8 from the field in the second half.
Basketball is often an afterthought at Southern Miss, but the matchup against a Top 25 team attracted a raucous crowd of 5,023, easily the largest of the season.
"No feeling like it," Horton said. "For us to get a crowd like this and then deliver this type of win -- it's huge."
Though Southern Miss had balanced scoring, Horton stuck out with his overall game. He shot 6 of 11 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range. He also made four of five free throws and had six rebounds and five assists.
Eustachy also credited his point guard's defense.
"He was huge," Eustachy said. "I thought he rattled Jordan with a steal."
The Golden Eagles outrebounded UCF 37-28 and shot 51.6 percent from the field, including 62.1 percent in the second half.
UCF made 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) shots from 3-point range, but couldn't overcome the big Southern Miss rally in the second half. The Knights also committed 16 turnovers.
"We turned the ball over six times during that [21-2 run] and gave them a lot of points in transition," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "It's our offense turning the ball over and making poor decisions, which ignited a big run for them."
Keith Clanton added 14 points and seven rebounds for UCF.
Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.
|Texas San Antonio||3-15||13||5-27|