HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Neil Watson may be in his first season with Southern Mississippi, but the point guard already is making a name for himself.
Watson scored 18 points, including a 3-pointer with 18.5 seconds left, as Southern Miss held off Marshall 67-63 Saturday night. He had performed similar heroics for Southern Miss this season, knocking down a clinching 3-pointer in an 86-82 win at home over Ole Miss on Dec. 17.
"He's just a sophomore," Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. "(But) he really came through."
The Golden Eagles (17-3, 4-1 Conference USA), who led by as many as 16 points in the first half, saw the Thundering Herd hit three consecutive 3-pointers to pull within 64-63 with 46.5 seconds to play.
But Watson, who scored Southern Miss' final five points of the game, swished a shot off the right wing with the shot clock winding down to give the Golden Eagles all the cushion they would need.
"DeAnglo Johnson, he trusted me with that shot, so I felt like I could step up and make that shot," said Watson, who comes off the bench as Southern Miss' sixth man.
The 5-foot-11 Watson, who was redshirted at Toledo two years ago before transferring to the Golden Eagles out of Coffeyville Community College, said he had asked Southern Miss senior guard Johnson to consider him an option if necessary down the stretch.
"I had been talking to him previously, and told him, 'When you come to my side, I'm open, so just look for me,' and we made eye contact that last stretch," Watson said. "Thank goodness their guy fell asleep and I was able to make the shot."
Southern Miss handed the Thundering Herd its first league loss.
LaShay Page added 15 points for Southern Miss.
Page scored all his points in the first half as the Golden Eagles ran out to a 42-30 edge at halftime.
Marshall's DeAndre Kane led the Thundering Herd (13-6, 4-1) with 21 points.
But the Golden Eagles connected on just one of their first 10 shots in the second half, scoring just three points in the first 7 minutes of the half, and wound up shooting just 30.4 percent from the floor.
But Marshall struggled with its shooting touch much of the evening, too, hitting just 39 percent from the floor and 55 percent from the foul line.
"We were on fire in the first half; everything was clicking," Page said. "Then, the second half came around and we couldn't buy a basket. But we fell like defense is the core of our team, so we had to continue to get stops and be a great defensive team."
It was the Thundering Herd's rebounding that allowed them to get back in the game. Southern Miss held a 20-18 edge on the boards in the first half, but Marshall outrebounded its hosts 25-14 in the second.
The Thundering Herd, which led the nation by averaging 17.1 offensive rebounds a game coming in, had 15 Saturday.
Led by Watson (6 of 6) and Maurice Bolden (8 of 10), Southern Miss hit 20 of 29 free throws to hold off Marshall.
With the win, Southern Miss pulled into a 3-way tie for second place with Marshall and Memphis, a half -game behind Central Florida.
"It's one of the biggest wins that I've had here, considering the circumstances," said Eustachy, who will take the Golden Eagles to East Carolina and Central Florida before returning home to welcome Memphis.
''With the schedule coming up, this was a must win."