By Chris Duncan
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For a moment on Wednesday night, Freedom Hall became Bourbon Street, as Southern Mississippi fans showered the court with beaded necklaces. They had every reason to start the party.
Jasper Johnson's tip-in with 3.8 seconds left had just lifted the Golden Eagles to a 63-61 upset of Cincinnati in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.
Southern Mississippi (13-15) snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Bearcats and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals for the third time.
"When we needed to come up with plays, we had guys step up and make plays," Southern Mississippi coach James Green said.
Greg Johnson scored 21 points and Charles Gaines added 15 for the 12th-seeded Golden Eagles (13-15), who were the third No. 12 seed to win a tournament game in the league's seven-year history.
"They gave us some tough shots," Green said, "but we never put our heads down and just continued to play."
The Eagles held a narrow lead most of the second half, but Leonard Stokes hit a jumper from the wing to forge a 57-57 tie with 4:15 left.
The teams traded baskets into the final minute.
Greg Johnson sank two free throws with 54.2 seconds left to give the Eagles a 61-59 lead, but Stokes answered with a baseline turnaround with 40.6 seconds to go.
Out of a timeout, the Eagles ran a set play for Jasper Johnson, who missed a 3-pointer from the wing. Dante Stiggers ran down the loose ball in the corner and passed to Greg Johnson, who missed a one-handed shot from underneath the basket.
Jasper Johnson sneaked in from the weak side and tipped the ball in with his left hand.
"It was a big play by Dante Stiggers to get that rebound and keep the offensive possession alive," said Jasper Johnson, who had 15 points.
Cincinnati called time out and set up a play, but Chadd Moore missed an 18-footer from the wing at the buzzer.
The Eagles will play fourth-seeded Saint Louis (15-12) in Thursday's quarterfinals.
In the early game of Wednesday's evening session, Eric Bush scored 21 points and Morris Finley added 17 as UAB (17-11) beat Charlotte 85-61 to earn a shot at top-seeded and eighth-ranked Marquette (23-4) in the quarterfinals.
The Blazers rode a 25-2 second-half run to blow open a close game with Charlotte.
The 49ers (13-16) had won their last six C-USA tournament openers. Instead, they lost for the third straight time and finished the season with a losing record for the first time since 1995-96.
"This whole season has been a mystery," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "It's been a difficult team to read all year. They are not very emotional."
Earlier Wednesday, Tulane (16-14) advanced to the tournament quarterfinals for the third time in four years after an easy 74-52 win over Houston (8-20).
Brandon Spann scored 16 points as the Green Wave started the game with a 15-4 run and was never threatened.
The sixth-seeded Green Wave will play third-seeded and No. 20 Louisville (21-6) on Thursday.
The teams haven't met since coach Rick Pitino became the Cardinals' coach, but Tulane coach Shawn Finney knows their system well. Finney is former assistant of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who previously worked for Pitino.
"We're familiar with their style of play," Finney said. "I wish the game could be on a neutral court."
In the tournament opener, South Florida (15-13) blew a 16-point first-half lead, then fought off DePaul 76-74, eliminating the Blue Demons (16-12) for the second time in three seasons.
Reggie Kohn sank seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points to help South Florida win for just the third time in its last eight games.
"We kind of lost our focus early in the second half, but we stayed together and stuck with it," South Florida coach Seth Greenberg said. "We took their hit. I'm really proud of our team and the way they persevered."
South Florida will play second-seeded and 16th-ranked Memphis (22-5) in Thursday's first quarterfinal. The teams split their regular-season meetings.
The Tigers have won 12 of 13 games since a 75-74 loss to the Bulls in Memphis.
"At least we have something to go back on that says we can do it," Greenberg said. "We didn't come here to win one game."
TODAY'S BASKETBALL GAMES
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Like Mardi Gras for Southern Miss
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C-USA Tournament Glance
Marquette's Wade C-USA player of year
XU right at home in UD Arena
West again A-10 player of year
Dayton finally gets to play
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