Southern Mississippi has won 11 straight games, the third-longest winning streak in school history.
The Golden Eagles are also 15-2 and No. 12 in the RPI. They won their first two Conference USA game, edging East Carolina 78-76 on Jan. 4 then winning 71-66 in overtime at Tulane on Jan. 7.
Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy doesn't feel his team has played close to its potential inside C-USA, which could concern the team's future foes.
"We're still finding our way with this group but we're able to do it by winning," Eustachy said.
Southern Miss has been one of the nation's biggest surprise as it was in rebuilding mode after losing their four leading scorers from last season's 22-win team. Yet the Golden Eagles are finding ways to win.
"This team, from day one, believed in coach and bought in," said senior point guard Angelo Johnson, the lone returning starter. "We have a group of guys who bought in quick and that's why we are where we're at today."
Southern Miss will be put to a tough test Jan. 11 when it visits Memphis. The Golden Eagles have lost 17 straight games to the Tigers
"It's going to be a battle," Eustachy said.
Southern Miss then hosts Alabama-Birmingham on Jan. 14.
- Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy knew he was getting a pretty good player when he recruited sophomore guard Neil Watson from Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College last spring. Watson is even better than advertised.
Watson played a major role in Southern Miss running its winning streak to 11 on Jan. 7 with a 71-66 overtime victory at Tulane. Watson played much of the second half at point guard after Angelo Johnson picked up his third foul with 18:06 left.
Watson responded by scoring 16 points and dishing out five assists in a career-high 36 minutes. However, the most impressive of the effort was Watson scoring four clutch points in overtime.
With Southern Miss leading 63-62 with 2:56 left, Watson made a pair of free throws. He then had a field goal on the Golden Eagles' next possession to stretch the lead to five points, too much for Tulane to overcome.
"Overtime is where players show their true colors," Watson said. "I feel like I kind of stepped up as a sophomore guard in this league. I was a little nervous. I hadn't been in that situation in a conference game, having all the pressure on my back but I handled it."
Watson is averaging 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He has impressed his new teammates.
"I think he sees the play before it happens," Southern Miss senior Maurice Bolden said. "He's got a feel when somebody's open. When he's got two guys on him, it's like he's Spiderman or something. He's going to throw it to someone around the rim. He's a good point guard."
- Sometimes Eustachy is very hard to please. A case in point came in the win at Tulane as the coach benched senior guard Maurice Bolden for most of the second half and overtime.
Bolden still finished with 15 points, three blocked shots and two assists. Bolden also scored the final two points on a pair of free throws.
"That felt real good," Bolden said about being on the floor at the end of the game."
- Junior guard LaShay Page experienced the good and the bad during the first week of Conference USA play.
Page scored 20 points in a 78-76 victory over East Carolina on Jan. 4 as he made 6 of 11 attempts from 3-point range. Three days later, Page failed to score in 41 minutes of a 71-66 overtime victory at Tulane as he missed all six 3-point tries.
Eustachy said his only piece of advice to Page would be to keep shooting, whether he's going good or bad.
"He's obviously got the green light out there," Eustachy said. "You don't want to curtail his selection out there, because with a guy like him you want him to be out there with a lot of confidence."
By The Numbers: 24-Years since Southern Mississippi had a winning streak as long as its current 11-gamer. That came in the 1987-88 season.
Quote To Note: "Guys have been saying in interviews that we're a mid-major program. We're not a mid-major. Memphis is not a mid-major program. We're a high-major program. We've got seven, eight or nine guys that can play in the SEC, so does everybody else in this league for the most part. You look at the tradition of Houston or Tulsa. This is a high-major league." - Eustachy on his frustration with the national perception of Conference USA.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Games:
- at Memphis, Jan. 11
Key Matchups: Southern Miss has lost 17 straight games against Memphis dating to the 2003-04 season and lost to the Tigers last year, losing 76-75 at home, 67-61 on the road and 66-63 in the Conference USA tournament. In Hattiesburg, Southern Miss' Angelo Johnson scored 10 points. Memphis' Will Barton scored 15, Chris Crawford had 12, Charles Carmouche netted 11 and Joe Jackson added 10. Both teams shot 51 percent and Memphis won despite 16 turnovers. In the rematch at Memphis, Southern Miss' Maurice Bolden scored 13 points. The Tigers' Tarrik Black had 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots and Barton added 16 points while Southern Miss shot just 38 percent. In the conference tourney, Jackson scored 15 points for Memphis, Antonio Barton had 12 and Will Barton and Carmouche added 10 each.
- vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Jan. 14
Key Matchups: Southern Miss split a pair of games with UAB last season, winning 75-71 on the road then losing 67-66 on the road. In Birmingham, Southern Miss outrebounded UAB 36-22. In the rematch at Hattiesburg, Johnson scored 10 points for Southern Miss while UAB's Cameron Moore had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
- Junior G LaShay Page was held scoreless for the first time season as he went 0-for-8 from the field and missed all six 3-point attempts in a 71-66 overtime win at Tulane on Jan. 7. Page scored a combined 49 points in the previous two games. However, Page made up for his lack of scoring by pulling down a career-high eight rebounds.
- Sophomore F Neil Watson scored in double figures in three straight games, averaging 13.0 points in that span. He was in single digits in the previous three games, averaging 6.0 points in that time.
- Senior G Maurice Bolden scored in double figures in five of the last six games, averaging 10.7 points in that span.