Southern Mississippi seemingly has to prove itself with every game.
Even though Southern Miss raised its record to 17-3 by knocking off first-place Marshall 67-63 at home on Jan. 21, there was almost no national buzz about the Eagles. It didn't seem to matter to the national analysts that the Golden Eagles were No. 15 in the RPI.
However, Southern Miss removed any doubt that it is a serious contender for the Conference USA title with the victory over Marshall. The Thundering Herd came into the game as the last C-USA team without a conference loss.
The win also improved Southern Miss' conference record to 4-1 and put it in a three-way tie for second place with Marshall and Memphis, a half-game behind Central Florida (5-1).
Southern Miss will get a crack at Central Florida on Jan. 28 when it faces the Knights in Orlando. However, three days earlier, Southern Miss visits last-place East Carolina, which took the Golden Eagles to the wire before losing 78-76 in the conference opener on Jan. 4 in Hattiesburg.
- Seven different players had led Southern Mississippi in scoring through the first 20 games.
Junior G LaShay Page had taken scoring honors a team-high six times in games through Jan. 21. Senior G Angelo Johnson topped Southern Miss four times, senior F Darnell Dodson and sophomore G Neil Watson three times each, and senior G Maurice Bolden, junior F Jonathan Mills senior F Torye Pelham once apiece.
Coach Larry Eustachy usually employs a nine-man rotation, and Page said that is the hidden reason why Southern Miss won 17 of its first 20 games.
"That's our X-factor," Page said. "We can wear teams out with our depth."
- Southern Miss ran its home record to 11-0 this season when it beat Marshall 67-63 on Jan. 21. The Golden Eagles don't return home until Feb. 1, when they face Memphis after trips to East Carolina on Jan. 25 and Central Florida on Jan. 28.
The Golden Eagles were 5-2 on the road and 2-1 on neutral courts through Jan. 21.
By The Numbers: 17-3-Southern Miss' record through Jan. 21. That was the best record the Golden Eagles had through 20 games since they were 18-2 in 1990-91.
Quote To Note: "We talk about the league title a lot, but we know in order to win this league, we have to protect our home, and we've got to win on the road."-Sophomore G Neil Watson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Games:
- at East Carolina, Jan. 25
Key Matchups: Junior G Miguel Paul has been East Carolina's top player and was averaging 16.3 points, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals a game through Jan. 21. Senior F Darrius Morrow was averaging 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocked shots and 1.0 steals a game, and junior F Maurice Kemp was averaging 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals a game. Southern Miss has won six straight games over East Carolina, including 78-76 at home on Jan. 4. LaShay Page led Southern Miss with 20 points, while Darnell Dodson had 17 points, Neil Watson added 11 points, and Maurice Bolden finished with 10 points. East Carolina was led by Morrow's 23 points, while Paul had 19 points and 10 assists, and Kemp added 14 points. East Carolina shot 53 percent but was outrebounded 34-22 and committed 17 turnovers.
- at Central Florida, Jan. 28
Key Matchups: Junior G Marcus Jordan was UCF's top scorer through Jan. 21 with an average of 16.1 points a game. Junior F Keith Clanton was averaging 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots and 1.3 steals a game, and sophomore G Isaiah Sykes had averages of 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game. Southern Miss' three-game losing streak against UCF ended last season.
Futures Market: Sophomore G Cedric Jenkins has worked his way into a more prominent spot in the rotation in recent weeks, and he got a start in the 67-63 victory over Marshall on Jan. 21. Jenkins did not play in the Golden Eagles' Conference USA opener but then played an average of 16.0 minutes in the next four games, averaging 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.
- Sophomore G Neil Watson hit the biggest shot of his brief career at Southern Miss when his 3-pointer with 18 seconds left and shot clock about to expire gave the Golden Eagles the final margin of victory in a 67-63 win over Marshall on Jan. 21.
"I love that kid," junior F Jonathan Mills said. "Neil, he's ruthless. He won't ever stop going. He's going to continue to play ball, and that's his game."
Southern Miss junior G LaShay Page says Watson, a transfer from Kansas City (Kan.) Community College, should be receiving notice as one of the top sixth men in the nation. Through Jan. 21, Watson was averaging 10.7 points and 4.1 assists a game.
- Junior F Jonathan Mills, a junior college transfer, has proved to be a banger in the paint this season.
Though he had started only two of Southern Miss' first 20 games, the Golden Eagles were 17-3 through Jan. 21, and Mills was playing an important role. He was averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.8 minutes a game.
"He's a really strong, physical post," Southern Miss junior G LaShay Page said. "He looks to post up every time. He makes free throws. He's just that post presence that we need. We have a lot of fours or fives that like to face up and shoot a lot of jumpers. He's down in there every time looking to post up."
- Junior G LaShay Page had made at least three 3-point field goals in six games this season through Jan. 21, and Southern Miss was 6-0 in those games.