Back-to-back losses might wind up costing Southern Mississippi the chance to win the regular-season title in Conference USA. However, the Golden Eagles have at least assured themselves of having a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Southern Miss edged Rice 58-56 on Feb. 25 to improve to 23-6 overall and 10-4 in C-USA. However, the Golden Eagles had slipped into a second-place tie with Tulsa (17-11, 10-4) in the conference standings after losing its previous two games at Houston and Texas-El Paso.
Southern Miss and Tulsa trailed Memphis (21-8, 11-3) by one game with two games remaining.
Southern Miss finishes the regular season by hosting Southern Methodist (12-17, 3-11) on Feb. 29 and playing at Marshall (17-11, 8-6).
Memphis hosts fourth-place Central Florida (20-8, 9-5) on Feb. 28, then plays at Tulsa on March 3. Before facing Memphis, Tulsa visits UAB (13-14, 8-6) on Feb. 29.
- Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy did a lot of dancing Feb. 25, both in the final second and at the conclusion of his team's 58-56 victory over Rice on Feb 25.
Southern Miss F Jonathan Mills was fouled with 0.6 seconds left and the scored tied at 56-56. Rice coach Ben Braun called a timeout to ice Mills, and Eustachy did a little dance in the huddle in front of the bench to lighten the mood.
Eustachy then did another dance once his players put him down after they lifted off the floor and carried him at the end of the game to commemorate his 400th career victory.
- Southern Miss earned its 23rd win of the season when it beat Rice, improving to 23-6 and tying the school record for single-season wins since joining Division I in 1972-73. The Golden Eagles will have at least three chances to break the record, as it has two regular-season games left and at least one game in the Conference USA tournament.
By The Numbers: 400-Career wins for coach Larry Eustachy, who reached the milestone with a 58-56 victory over Rice on Feb. 25.
Quote To Note: "I was trying to loosen (Jonathan) Mills up. It looked like he was going to swallow a goat or something." - Coach Larry Eustachy, on why he did a dance during the timeout with 0.6 seconds left against Rice. Mills subsequently sank the game-winning free throws.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game:
- vs. Southern Methodist, Feb. 29
Key Matchups: SMU is led by senior F Robert Nyakundi, who is averaging 14.9 points a game, and junior G London Giles, who has a 10.8 scoring average.
- at Marshall, March 3
Key Matchups: Sophomore G DeAndre Kane leads Marshall with an average of 15.7 points a game, and senior G Damier Pitts has a 14.3 scoring average. Southern Miss defeated Marshall 67-63 at home on Jan. 21 as sophomore G Neil Watson scored 18 points and dished out five assists for the Golden Eagles. Junior G LaShay Page added 15 points for Southern Miss. Marshall was led by Kane's 21 points.
Futures Market: Sophomore G Neil Watson, a junior college transfer, has emerged as one of Southern Miss's top players in his first season at the Division I level. He was averaging 12.1 points and a team-high 4.6 assists through Feb. 25.
- Junior G LaShay Page missed Southern Miss' 58-56 victory over Rice on Feb. 25 following the death of his mother three days earlier. Page is also expected to miss the final two regular-season games, against Southern Methodist on Feb. 29 and at Marshall on March 3.
- Junior F Jonathan Mills is emerging as a scoring threat in the low post late in the season. He had scored in double figures in six straight games through Feb. 25, averaging 16.0 points to raise his season average to 9.6. Mills had been in double digits just once in nine games before his streak.
- Senior G Darnell Dodson is becoming a non-factor at the end of the season. In four of his last five games through Feb. 25, Dodson scored in single digits and played 16 minutes or fewer. He averaged 5.2 points during that stretch to lower his season average to 11.2.