MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Southern Mississippi had a chance to at least delay Memphis from taking another Conference USA regular season title.
But, despite getting a strong offensive performance from Dwayne Davis and staying close with the 21st-ranked Tigers early, Southern Mississippi lost 89-73 on Saturday.
Davis, who carried Southern Mississippi (21-7, 10-3) in the first half, finished with a career-best 28 points, while Jerrold Brooks added 16 points, 11 after halftime.
Jonathan Mills scored 11 points for Southern Mississippi, which had its three-game winning streak snapped. The Golden Eagles had not lost since Memphis beat them 89-76 in Hattiesburg on Feb. 9.
"I thought for the most part our team competed," Southern Mississippi coach Donnie Tyndall said. "That's a very, very talented team. After playing them the second time, I think they're arguably the best passing team in all of college basketball."
Southern Mississippi entered the game in second place, two games behind Memphis. Tyndall was pleased with the effort, but acknowledged that Memphis was just too strong both from the perimeter and inside.
"I thought, for the most part, our team competed for 40 minutes and played hard," Tyndall said.
But there were key points in the first half that cost the Golden Eagles.
"Two assists and eight turnovers aren't going to do it against a team of that stature," Tyndall said of the first-half letdown.
The other key point before halftime was when the Golden Eagles had the lead, but Memphis stole the ball near midcourt. As Shaq Goodwin scored on a dunk, Southern Mississippi guard Neil Watson was called for an intentional foul. Goodwin hit the resulting two free throws, and on the ensuing possession, D.J. Stephens scored on a dunk, putting Memphis up by five.
Southern Mississippi would not lead again.
"It was a huge swing in the game," Tyndall said.
The Southern Mississippi loss means Memphis (24-3, 13-0) is leaving Conference USA with its hands around the regular-season conference crown. The Tigers, who will move to the Big East next season, had five players finish in double figures as they pulled away from Southern Mississippi in the second half.
"I'm extremely proud of these young men," Tigers coach Josh Pastner said about his team. "To win a conference championship, ... that is not easy to do, especially when you are picked to win it, one, and secondly, you are getting everyone's best shot."
Chris Crawford and Goodwin scored 19 points each as Memphis won its 18th straight. Stephens scored 16 points, and, like Goodwin, was 6 of 7 from the field, while Joe Jackson had 15 points. Adonis Thomas scored 12 for Memphis, which shot 50 percent for the game, including 46 percent from outside the arc. Memphis had 25 assists on 29 field goals.
"That's the makeup of a championship team," Jackson said of the balance, later adding: "We have so much talent on one team, the only thing we have to do to win a game is make sure everybody is having fun and playing the game."
Noting the ratio of assists to field goals, Tyndall added: "That's an incredible statistic."
Goodwin, who had not reached double figures the last five games, made more of a concentrated effort to score inside.
"I'm a pass-first person most of the time," Goodwin said. "My coaches came to me and said going into the tournament (I am) going to have to get buckets because that's going to open the floor up for the shooters. So, I just went out there and tried to get buckets."
Memphis, which led by 16 at the break, extended the lead to 23 as the Tigers continued to connect from long range. Memphis converted four 3-pointers in the early stages of the second half.
But Davis continued to score, and started getting help from Mills, through the middle stages of the second half. The Golden Eagles made it 72-60 when Norville Carey scored inside near the 8-minute mark.
Memphis responded with the next six points, and eventually built the lead back to 20 on Jackson's 5-foot baseline jumper with 4:09 left.
That was enough for Memphis to hold a double-digit advantage the rest of the way, earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.