HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy said last week at practice his team had three big games coming up, and it needed to steal at least one of them.
Flash forward a week, and the Golden Eagles are 3-0 with wins over Mississippi, Arizona State and, on Thursday night, a 53-51 victory over South Florida.
"We survived," Eustachy said. "It's amazing."
Darnell Dodson put up his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Southern Miss (10-2).
Playing his second game since becoming eligible on Dec. 16, the 6-foot-7 swingman gave the Golden Eagles a spark off the bench in the first half with eight rebounds, and he scored 10 of their 28 second-half points.
"It feels good to be back," Dodson said. "I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to fit in around here. These guys have been working like crazy and I'm playing catch-up."
Southern Miss surged to a 25-19 lead at the half and fought off a late USF rally.
The two teams played evenly in the second half until the 4:40 mark, when LaShay Page's 3-point basket pushed Southern Miss' lead to 46-38.
That eight-point margin held for nearly 3 minutes before the Bulls (7-6) began to surge.
Augustus Gilchrist made four free throws and Jawanza Poland hit an NBA-range 3-pointer in the final 90 seconds to cut the Southern Miss lead to 52-51 with 6 seconds left. After Rashard McGill added a free throw 1 second later, Gilchrist's 10-foot floater came up short as time expired.
"What I liked is when we pushed our lead to eight we never quit," Eustachy said. "We stayed true to who we are and really pushed it over the finish line."
Gilchrist scored his 1,000th collegiate point early in the second half, but South Florida struggled to find any consistency shooting. It made just 1 of its 15 3-point attempts and went 10 of 16 from the free throw line.
Ron Anderson Jr. scored 12 to lead the Bulls, who have lost four of their last six games, heading into a Dec. 28 Big East opener against No. 8-ranked Connecticut.
"I thought two things made the difference tonight," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "And that's 3-point shooting and the block/charge calls. We couldn't buy a basket, and those were some tough, momentum-changing moments."