January 17, 2014

Craig, Brown Lead Eagles Past Rice

Donnie Tyndall's famous smile flashed over the student section at Reed Green Coliseum Thursday night in a way that seemed larger than life -- mainly because it was. As Rice shot its first of only six free throws in the contest, Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens hoisted an enormous fathead (no pun intended) of Tyndall's face in the air, swaying it back and forth in an attempt to distract the Owl at the charity stripe.

It almost felt as if the second-year head coach was watching from both ends of the floor and the Golden Eagles played like it, methodically carving up Rice, 84-62, for a decisive victory in front of 3, 835 in attendance.

USM survived a late first-half slip and a barrage of three-point attempts by Rice to improve to 15-3 overall and 2-1 in C-USA play. The Owls attempted 34 three-pointers, making twelve, in a matchup that was thoroughly dominated by Southern Miss. The Eagles owned the glass with athleticism and physicality, bruising their way to a 43-20 rebounding advantage and 34 points in the paint.

"You like to think your team is on edge or mostly right most of the time, but we weren't happy after the Tulsa game (a 76-71 loss last Sunday)," Tyndall said. "We had two really good days of practice and got the practices to the floor today."

And while the Owls orchestrated a steady run to bring a once-large Southern Miss lead down to six by halftime, Tyndall's squad exploded out of the gate with a 7-2 run and never looked back.

Michael Craig led the team in scoring and flirted with yet another double-double, ending the game with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Craig's resurgence from injury to indestructible has been extensively documented, and his head-shaking power was once again put on display with two monster dunks that brought the crowd to its feet.

"Every time I see an opportunity like that I try to just embrace it and take full advantage of it," Craig said. "If I see an alley-oop, coach might not want Neil (Watson) to throw the alley-oop, but I'm gonna tell him to throw it anyway because I like to go for things."

Four other Golden Eagles also scored in double figures including Aaron Brown (15 points, 8 rebounds), Neil Watson (12 points, 6 assists), Daveon Boardingham (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Chip Armelin (10 points).

It was one of USM's most complete performances to date and one the team desperately needed before a much-anticipated Sunday afternoon showdown with conference foe Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are considered co-favorites with Southern Miss to win the conference championship and Tyndall understands the significance this upcoming game bears on his squad's hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth.

"(Louisiana Tech is) the deepest team in the league and they play a ton of guys," Tyndall said. "They're just a balanced, well-coached, deep team. They're picked to win our league in most publications for a reason."

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