JACKSON, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Back-to-back 3-point baskets late in the second half by Xavian Stapleton helped lift Mississippi State to a 70-64 victory against in-state rival Southern Mississippi Saturday night at Mississippi Coliseum.
The Bulldogs won their annual Christmas game in Jackson and will enter the holiday break with an 11-1 overall record. MSU also beat Southern Mississippi last season in this building.
MSU saw a nine-point halftime lead slip away. Three second-half 3-pointers by Stapleton helped fuel the comeback.
"(Stapleton) really came up big for us there at the end," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "His experience on the floor was huge because (Southern Miss) played a four-guard lineup. That's just a bad matchup for us. We had too many turnovers (16), but we made enough plays down the stretch to get the win.
"We feel fortunate to get out of here with a win."
The Bulldogs scored seven straight points to open a 7-3 lead early. The Golden Eagles followed with seven points of their own to reclaim the lead. A 3-pointer by Stapleton and two free throws by Tyson Carter pushed the MSU advantage to 17-11.
The lead would grow to 11 at 26-15 after a pair of Nick Weatherspoon free throws. After the Golden Eagles were back within three points, Eli Wright capped a 7-0 run for the Bulldogs to open a 34-24 lead.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs committed only seven turnovers and led 36-27 at the break.
"We are getting set for Southeastern Conference play a little more than week from now," Howland said. "There are a lot of facets of the game we have to get better at. Southern Miss really competed hard, played hard and that caused us some problems. Credit to them for their game plan and how they were able to execute it."
The Bulldogs still held a nine-point lead at 45-36 with 13:46 left. From there, MSU had some turnover problems and missed a series of free throws to allow Southern Miss back into the contest.
A 10-0 run gave USM a 46-45 lead with 10:17 left. The Golden Eagles still led 54-50 with 5:55 left before back-to-back treys from Stapleton. Quinndary Weatherspoon followed with a critical putback on an offensive rebound to give the Bulldogs some breathing room.
For the contest, MSU hit 23 of 44 shots from the field (52.3 percent), 7 of 20 shots from 3-point range (35.0 percent) and 17 of 29 shots from the foul line (58.6 percent). Southern Miss hit 23 of 57 shots from the field (40.4 percent), 9 of 26 shots from 3-point range (34.6 percent) and 9 of 14 shots from the foul line (64.3 percent).
MSU held a 35-30 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 15 assists and 16 turnovers, while the Golden Eagles had 15 assists and nine turnovers.
Southern Miss (7-6) received 22 points from Cortez Edwards and 11 points from Kevin Holland. Edwards also had a team-high seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles.
After taking some time off Christmas, MSU will be back in action at 4 p.m. Saturday against North Florida. The final non-conference game of the season will be available nationally on SEC Network +.
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