On Saturday afternoon the Golden Eagles hammed then ranked No. 22 UCF 86-69 in front of more than 5,000 Southern Miss fans. These were actual numbers, not the the oft used inflated "tickets sold" number that athletic department officials across the country use to cover up slim crowds.
The crowd was a difference, in fact a big difference. Speaking to BigGoldNation.com after the game head coach Larry Eustachy paid compliments to the crowd.
"The difference was the crowd, he said. "If this crowd isn't here and into the game, I think it would have been much closer down the stretch, and I'm not sure we would have pulled this one out."
Senior guard R.L. Horton led the way for the Eagles with 18 points, true-freshman Devonta Newbill scored a career high 17 while team leader Gary Flowers contributed 16 to the cause. Junior Maurice Bolden was the first man off the bench for the Eagles and was a spark plug for the Eagles, he poured in 16 points grabbed six rebounds. But, it was Bolden's rim-shaking dunks that brought the crowd to their feet time and again.
As the energy of the upbeat play radiated throughout Reed Green Coliseum the Yurt began to rock with an electricity that opened time portal to the past. All of a sudden it was 1990 again, Spoon was in rare form the Dunk Corner was going crazy, the pep band played and the Eagles were on a mission.
A fan-base that has largely given up on the Eagles over the past years was back in full force and it was treated to the Eagles first home win over a Top 25 team in a quarter-century. The Eagles didn't just beat No. 22 UCF, they ran the Knight out of the gym in the second half.
The Eagles showed everything you want to see in college basketball over the course of two and a half hours on Saturday afternoon, strong defense, an electrifying offense, hustle, courage, determination and the list could go on.
Angelo Johnson managed the game well at the point. Newbill had his best game as a Golden Eagle doing a little big of everything, Flowers crashing the board and owning the paint for the Eagles. Bolden slashing to the basket for at least three huge dunks on the night. Horton playing lock-down defense, holding Marcus Jordan to just 5 second half points.
Without those fans in the stand bringing the Eagles back, as the lead changed 11 times over the course of the first half and early portions of the second, the monumental victory may not have even taken place.
As much as players and fans want to enjoy what could be a program changing win, they won't have long to celebrate as arch rival Memphis rolls into town on Wednesday for a regionally televised game.
"You want to enjoy this one," Bolden said after the game. "But, at the same time we know we have to turn around and play another very good opponent here Wednesday night, so we'll put this one behind us and get ready to keep building on this."
The young group of Tigers is 13-4 (2-1 C-USA) and have been ranked in the Top 25 all year and are fresh off a 77-61 home win over Marshall on Saturday. Memphis is young, they've had some close calls and some disappointing losses along the way. They've also had some quality wins over good programs are rounding into form as C-USA play gets underway.
There's little doubt that the Eagles can make it two in a row, but having the huge crowd from Saturday back will go a long way toward giving Southern Miss the home court advantage that the top programs always seem to enjoy. Home court advantage probably plays a bigger role in college basketball than in any other sport, road wins in C-USA are hard to come by and with bigger crowds they could become a real rarity in Hattiesburg.
Wednesday Night - Pack the Yurt
As the game tipped on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Southern Miss fans waited in line outside the Yurt as the large walk-up crowd swamped ticket windows.
Southern Miss officials have urged fans planning to attend the game to buy their tickets ahead. The Southern Miss Ticket office located on West 4th Street will be closed on Monday for a state holiday but will be open on Tuesday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm selling tickets for not only the Memphis game but for all remaining home games. On Wednesday, the ticket office opens at 8:00 am and will remain open until 5:00 pm, ticket windows at Reed Green will open at 4:30 pm prior to the game.
Tickets can be purchased at online at southernmiss.com, or by calling 601-266-5418 and can be picked up on Tuesday or Wednesday prior to the game.
Southern Miss officials can also play a part to make the game-day experience more enjoyable, by opening more than one concession stand on the upper concourse. On Saturday the lines grew and wait time for service deterred many fans from making purchases.
A separate window for will call tickets orders would also be much appreciated as fans who make an effort to purchase tickets in advance shouldn't have to wait in the same lines as the walk-up crowd.
Pack the Yurt Southern Miss Fans, this team needs you!
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