The students rushed the court, players wept and coach Larry Eustachy could barely talk afterwards. Yes, it was a big win - as big as the Golden Eagles have had in a long time. Despite trailing by 12 at one point in the first half, Southern Miss ended an 18-game losing streak to Memphis with a 75-72 win over the Tigers on Wednesday at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Golden Eagles celebrated only after Chris Crawford missed a deep three-pointer just before the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
The Golden Eagles, who hadn't beaten the Tigers since Jan. 10, 2004, were coming off a big win at UCF on Saturday in what Eustachy called the team's best played game of the year. The successful coach still thinks his team can improve from what they showed Memphis, but they played well enough to slay the Tiger.
The victory gives Southern Miss sole possession of first place in Conference USA and 20 wins by Feb. 1. This team certainly belongs among the top 25 in the nation.
Southern Miss can enjoy the victory this weekend before returning to action next Wednesday at UAB.
The Golden Eagles did prove a few things on Wednesday. They hit the boards, and that was a huge factor as Southern Miss held Memphis to just two offensive rebounds while the home team grabbed 16.
In the first meeting of the year-a 60-58 loss at Memphis-the Golden Eagles made only eight of 28 triples (28.6 percent). They made five of 15 in Wednesday's win.
The Golden Eagles also proved that they are a deep team. Their bench scored 45 points against Memphis and LaShay Page was the only starter in double figures with 12 points.
• Neil Watson was coming off a season high 23 points in Southern Miss's victory over UCF on Saturday in Orlando. Watson, who scored only four points in the first game against Memphis, finished with 17 points and six assists on Wednesday. His biggest assist came with 45 seconds left when he drove down the floor, drew two defenders and made a nice pass to Jonathan Mills for a bucket inside to give the home team a 69-65 lead.
• Darnell Dodson, who had 22 points and a game-high eight rebounds in the win over UCF on Saturday, did not score a point the first time Southern Miss played Memphis. Dodson, who is averaging 12.5 points, made amends on Wednesday. The senior guard knocked down 7 of 16 shots and all nine free throws to finish with a game-high 23 points.
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
Trending: Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy is a big believer in strong rebounding. Defense may win games, but rebounding helps get you there and Southern Miss proves the point. The Golden Eagles have been out-rebounding their opponents 37.5 to 32.0-third best in Conference USA. They grabbed 16 offensive rebounds while holding Memphis to just two in Wednesday's big win. They out-rebounded the visitors 30-19 on the night and outscored them 13-5 on second-chance points-might not sound like a lot, but it is in a tight game like that.
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.