Finally, tears of joy instead of tears of anguish for Southern Miss.
After suffering a 57-56 loss to UAB on Wednesday, in which there was much anguish in the Southern Miss locker room, the Golden Eagles got their first Conference USA win on Saturday, a 68-53 decision over East Carolina.
USM coach Larry Eustachy has never lost faith in his team that had lost seven of the previous nine games prior to Saturday's win. Even after the UAB loss, Eustacy could see his team was on the verge of getting that long-awaited Conference USA victory.
"I think they're kind of on a mission," Eustachy told local media. "I think they're not getting the respect they deserve. I guess it's all about whether you win or lose, but we've played some teams very close. … We lost, but this team is as together as any team I've ever had. We're starting to make progress."
And he was right. The Eagles took care of business on Saturday and are encouraged by a schedule that gives them a week off, then games at Tulane and a home game on Feb. 2 against SMU. The Green Wave and the Mustangs are a combined 13-21.
• The win snapped USM's nine-game regular season losing streak against league competition. The previous C-USA win for USM also came over ECU on Feb. 17 last year.
• Last year, USM would have lost a game like Saturday's when it made just 2 of 13 three-pointers. But the Golden Eagles' frontcourt came to play, outscoring the Pirates 42-20 in the paint and holding a healthy 34-21 rebounding advantage.
• USM has a team of new faces. This year, 77.8 percent of the points and 78.4 rebounds are coming from newcomers.
January At A Glance: The next two games are huge for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have the potential to win three straight C-USA games after an 0-3 C-USA start. USM plays at Tulane on Saturday, and the Green Wave has been fighting injuries. And SMU, which USM has at home on Feb. 2, has shown to be nothing special.
Quote To Note: "We've got plenty of games (to make up ground). But we've got to win from now on. We can't go back backwards. We've got to go forward."-USM forward Toyre Pelham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Season Recap: It would have been easy for Eustachy to get down on his team. But he has stayed positive and made some frontline changes to make USM less one-dimensional on offense. The Golden Eagles finally got that one C-USA win for a huge confidence booster. "We think there's games we can win and then we can get into the conference tournament," coach Larry Eustachy said. "We don't think we're too far away from whoever is the best team in the league. It's a day-by-day goal. But we're checking off these games and I think we have a shot in a lot of them."
Player Rotation: Usual Starters-G Sai'Quon Stone, G R.L. Horton, F Gary Flowers, G Maurice Bolden, G Angelo Johnson. Key Subs-F Torye Pelham, F Andre Stephens, G Buchi Awaji.
UTEP 56, Southern Mississippi 49
UAB 57, Southern Mississippi 56
Southern Mississippi 68, East Carolina 53
at Tulane, Saturday, Jan. 30
vs. SMU, Tuesday, Feb. 2
at Houston, Saturday, Feb. 6
at Tulsa, Wednesday, Feb. 10
vs. Rice, Saturday, Feb. 13
In Focus: It was thought that USM's backcourt was going to be its strength. But in the last two games, the frontline, especially with former Chipola (Fla.) Junior College teammates Torye Pelham and Gary Flowers playing well together, is emerging as the focal point of the offense. "I think he plays really well with Gary," coach Larry Eustachy told local media about Pelham. "There are a lot of combos we've still got to look at. There's so much room for improvement."
• F Torye Pelham's career-high 12 points and five rebounds were a key in USM's win in on Saturday. The junior college transfer from Chipola (Fla.) Junior College has seen his playing time increase significantly recently as Larry Eustachy is going with Pelham in the post instead of Josimar Ayarza.
• Pelham has the second-best field goal percentage on the team, hitting 59.1 percent of his shots. Andre Stephens is shooting the best clip at 64.0.