Mississippi is burning

It wasn’t a must-win situation, but it was close to one, as a balanced USF team defeated Southern Miss 72-61 on Wednesday in Hattiesburg.

With the victory, the Bulls (9-10, 2-6 C-USA) snapped a six-game skid to secure coach Robert McCullum’s first conference road win since joining the Bulls in the 2003-04 season.

Coming in, USF and Southern Miss (10-10, 1-7 C-USA) were tied for last place in C-USA, and the Bulls needed a win to salvage a season that seemed to be slipping away.

“We’re just trying to right our wrongs,” senior Terrence Leather said on WBTN 570’s post-game radio show. “That’s all we’re trying to do, get on the winning side.”

Leather, fresh off a one-game suspension following USF’s loss against Cincinnati, showed his worth with a team-high 22 points and nine rebounds.

C-USA’s fourth-leading scorer shot 8 of 10 from the field and finished the game without committing a single foul.

“My focus was to come out here and get a win,” Leather said.

McCullum said he thought Leather played well, especially in the second half.

“I thought he began the game playing tentative,” McCullum told on WBTN 570. “He played better as the game progressed.”

The Bulls led by 11 at halftime and nearly lost control of the game as Southern Miss shaved USF’s lead to two points with nine minutes to go.

USF countered with a 13-2 run to finish the game, and the win was sealed with James Holmes’ lay-up with 1:30 to go that put the Bulls up by 11.

Brian Swift continued his solid offensive play, scoring 15 points. Swift has scored a total of 62 points in USF’s last three outings.

Late in the game, with Southern Miss still within striking distance, freshman Collin Dennis drove to the hoop and scored on a reserve lay-up to help USF pull away. The guard finished with 10 points.

“I called (Dennis) in on Monday and told him, ‘From this point on, you’re a starter, no ifs, ands or buts about it,'” coach Robert McCullum said. “Hopefully that helped his confidence.”

As a team, USF shot 52 percent for the game — and 62 percent in the second half — and won in Hattiesburg for the first time in five years.

The win was also the Bulls’ second conference road win this season. Against C-USA’s tougher teams, the Bulls are winless this season at the Sun Dome.

The Bulls welcome Tulane (8-11, 2-6 C-USA) on Saturday and St. Louis (5-14, 3-4 C-USA) on Wednesday.

McCullum was looking ahead as soon as the final buzzer sounded.

“It’s time to break that four-game conference losing streak at home,” McCullum said. “I’m confident that our guys are going to break that home losing streak.”