There seems to be almost no stopping Southern Mississippi.
Southern Miss had won 15 of its last 16 games through Jan. 28 to raise its record to 19-3 overall and 6-1 in Conference USA. It was tied for first place with Memphis and sitting at No. 11 in the RPI.
Yet Southern Miss was far from satisfied. The Golden Eagles want to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991.
"We don't want to settle for what we have now," sophomore guard Cedric Jenkins said. "We want to do something that hasn't happened in a while. We want to work hard. We want to know what else we can accomplish. Our main goal keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Southern Miss' first goal is winning the regular-season conference title, and it will get a chance to take sole possession of first place Feb. 1 when it hosts Memphis. The Golden Eagles lost at Memphis 60-58 on Jan 11, their only loss since Nov. 27.
Southern Miss warmed up for the showdown with Memphis with an impressive 78-65 victory at Central Florida on Jan. 28 that snapped the Knights' 16-game home winning streak.
"We've got a good chance for revenge," Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. "(The win at UCF ) was a great step in the right direction as far as who we're trying to be, but we're not out of the woods. We're not even halfway through this league."
Southern Miss has a week off following the Memphis game before playing at Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 8.
- Southern Mississippi was 4-1 in Conference USA games decided by five points or fewer through Jan. 28. Last season, the Golden Eagles were 2-5 in such games.
Senior G Angelo Johnson says having more players capable of making big shots has helped Southern Miss enjoy more late-game success.
"We all trust one another," Johnson said. "Last year, we always depended on Gary (Flowers). This time, you don't know who's going to get it. I just think we're more talented, more of a team, much more dangerous."
- Southern Miss' depth was never more evident than in its 78-65 victory at Central Florida on Jan. 28. The Golden Eagles' reserves scored 51 points, while the starters accounted for just 27 points. UCF got just 10 points from its bench.
By The Numbers: 61-Three-point field goals made by Southern Miss junior G LaShay Page in 22 games this season through Jan. 28. That is nearly double his total of 33 from last season.
Quote To Note: "They're athletic. They're quick and they're a team that seems to have won every close game. They're playing with a lot of confidence." - East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo, on Southern Miss.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game:
- vs. Memphis, Feb. 1
Key Matchups: Memphis sophomore G Will Barton was leading Conference USA in scoring with an 18.8 average and also had a team-best 8.7 rebounding average through Jan. 28. Sophomore G Joe Jackson was averaging 10.0 points and 3.2 assists. Southern Mississippi has lost its last 18 games against Memphis, including a 60-58 road defeat Jan. 11. Sophomore G Antonio Barton led Memphis with 13 points, and Will Barton added 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Southern Miss was led by junior G LaShay Page's 16 points, while senior G Angelo Johnson added 11 points. Southern Miss shot just 32 percent.
Futures Market: Sophomore G Neil Watson has emerged as a key player for Southern Miss in his first season since transferring from Kansas City (Kan.) Community College. Through Jan. 28, he was averaging 11.3 points and a team-high 4.4 assists.
- Sophomore G Cedric Jenkins was averaging just 2.2 points in 10.7 minutes a game through Jan. 28. However, Jenkins has had his moment in Conference USA play, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in a loss at Memphis on Jan. 11 and notching six points and six rebounds in a 72-60 victory over East Carolina on Jan. 25.
"I feel like anytime I can help the team, it's a plus," Jenkins said. "Not much is expected of me, so when I can contribute, it adds to the team. They really don't ask much of me but to just play hard. It's easy to play hard. I'm happy to step up when I feel like we need a spark. I have a lot of confidence myself, and my teammates have confidence in me."
- Sophomore G Neil Watson scored a career-high 23 points in a 78-65 victory at Central Florida on Jan. 28. He had scored in double figures in four straight games, averaging 15.8 points a game in that span to raise his season average to 11.3.
- Senior G Darnell Dodson scored 22 points against UCF for the second 20-point game of his career. He had a career-high 24 points in a win over Bellhaven on Dec. 27.