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Hattiesburg American, Ryan Moore) NO SALES, Associated Press
Southern Mississippi guard Alahjah Franklin celebrates the team's 75-72 victory over Memphis in an NCAA college basketball game in Hattiesburg, Miss. Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Southern Mississippi's Neil Watson would have been pleased with any victory over Memphis.

But as Chris Crawford's last gasp 3-pointer clanged off the rim, bounced harmlessly out of bounds and the Golden Eagles' student section stormed the court, the junior point guard felt an even greater sense of accomplishment following the 75-72 victory on Wednesday night.

That's because Southern Miss earned this one.

And now the 18-game losing streak against the Tigers is finally over.

"It means a lot, because we know if we meet them again, we can beat them even if they are playing their best game," Watson said. "We didn't get lucky. They played their game and we played our game and we came out victorious."

Darnell Dodson scored 23 points, Watson added 17 and the Golden Eagles beat Memphis for the first time since 2004.

Southern Miss (20-3, 7-1) took sole possession of first place in Conference USA, but maybe more importantly finally beat the Tigers after several close calls over the past three years. The game was tight throughout, and the Golden Eagles didn't clinch it until Crawford missed a deep 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

Southern Miss has won 16 of 17 games dating back to Nov. 26. Dodson came off the bench to ignite the Golden Eagles' offense, making 7 of 16 shots from the field and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line.

LaShay Page added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Memphis (15-7, 6-2) was led by Crawford's 23 points while Will Barton added 15. Memphis lost for just the second time in 11 games despite shooting 56.3 percent (27 of 48) from the field.

"All you can ask for is a chance to win or tie the game and we had two chances," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "... I was very proud at how we competed. You've got to give Southern Miss credit because they stepped up and made free throws."

The second half was close throughout, with neither team taking more than a five-point lead. Southern Miss was terrific at the free-throw line all night, hitting 24 of 27, and the Golden Eagles needed nearly every one of them.

Dodson and Watson hit several clutch free throws in the final moments, but Memphis kept responding with big buckets until Crawford's 3-pointer smacked the front of the rim and bounced out of the reach of his teammates.

"It's very rewarding because we caught their A-plus game in my opinion," Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. "We guarded them really well and they made some shots we had no answer for."

Crawford was wide open on the final shot, albeit a few feet behind the 3-point line, and there was no one Memphis would have rather had shooting the ball. The sophomore's 23 points were a career high and he finished 9 of 15 from the field, including 5 of 7 from behind the arc.

Southern Miss has pushed its way into NCAA Tournament consideration with its hot start, including wins over Mississippi and Arizona State, but the Memphis win might be the biggest of them all.

Despite the Tigers' lengthy winning streak in the series, the games have been extremely close in recent years, with Memphis winning the past six games by a combined 21 points. This one was no different.

Memphis took an early 16-4 lead thanks largely to a hot-shooting Crawford. He came into the game averaging just 8.5 points, but scored 18 in the first half, showcasing a quick release while making 4 of 5 3-pointers.

But Southern Miss slowly fought back, taking a 31-30 lead on a Torye Pelham 3-pointer with 1:44 remaining in the first half. The Golden Eagles pushed the lead to 34-30 before Crawford hit his final 3-pointer of the half at the buzzer to pull Memphis within 34-33.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandtAP