Bad news for the rest of Conference USA: Southern Mississippi has yet to play its best basketball. And the Golden Eagles are 14-2 and have won 10 straight, the school's longest winning streak since 1990-91, after Wednesday's 78-76 win over East Carolina. They also have won 13 of their last 14.
While their record would suggest otherwise, Southern Mississippi was inconsistent in the nonconference part of its season. And that inconsistency was evident on Wednesday night in the Conference USA opener. Of course, it's not really unexpected since coach Larry Eustachy has had to replace veteran scorers Larry Flowers and R.L. Horton.
The Golden Eagles hit the road for their second conference game on Saturday at Tulane. And the Green Wave won't be the pushover they were last season. In fact, Tulane is having one the biggest turnaround seasons so far in the country.
The Green Wave lost Wednesday night to UCF 60-53 in their conference opener. But they are still 12-3 on the season. Tulane's other two losses both came on the road, the first at Wofford and the second at No. 1 Syracuse.
The Golden Eagles will need to shut down Kendall Timmons (who leads the team in scoring) and Jordan Callahan (who scored 18 in the loss to CFU).
Southern Miss outrebounded East Carolina 15-5 on the offensive board in its win over the Pirates. Teams are going to win a lot of games with that much dominance on the glass.
The Golden Eagles made some mistakes down the stretch and didn't put the Pirates away when they led by 12 points in the second half. They also fired up too many 3-pointers (21 of their 55 field-goal attempts came outside the 3-point line).
But they made the plays they had to in order to win the game.
Eustachy was correct when he said his team "escaped" with a win over East Carolina. Hopefully they take that lesson with them when they had to Tulane on Saturday.
- Larry Eustachy got a phone call recently from an old friend. And the Southern Miss coach was quite flattered with what Eddie Sutton, who won over 800 games in his coaching career, had to say.
"He said, 'You're surprising everyone,'" Eustachy said. "'You lost good players and I saw you picked as low as ninth.' "
Suttons' comments only confirmed Eustachy's thoughts about his team.
"I said all along I like these guys," Eustachy said. "It's really just starting. The rubber hits the road with league play."
- Junior F Jonathan Mills continues to make bigger contributions as the season goes on. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double in 27 minutes off the bench in an 80-49 victory over Alcorn State on Dec. 28.
Mills is in first year with Southern Miss after transferring from the College of Eastern Utah.
"I'm an energy-type guy," Mills said. "I'm the type of person, when I come off the bus, I have that spark. I provide something when the team doesn't have it. I feel like the teams feeds off me. If I come with energy, the team will have energy."
- Southern Miss is 13-2, but sophomore G Neil Watson believes the Golden Eagles would be 15-0 if senior G Darnell Dodson had been with the team all season. Dodson, a transfer from Kentucky, sat out the first 10 games as part of a university-imposed suspension for his part in an on-campus altercation.
"Dodson has been a blessing to this team," Watson said. "His offensive capability is truly amazing. Everybody is happy to have him here. If he was here for the two games we lost back at Denver and against Murray State, we'd be unbeaten."
Dodson is averaging 15.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in his first five games.
By The Numbers: 13-Wins for Southern Miss by the end of December, setting the school record.
Quote To Note: "I thought it was a beautiful game. I thought we played terrific." - Coach Larry Eustachy after Southern Miss' 65-56 victory at McNeese State on Dec. 31 in the Golden Eagles' final non-conference game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Games:
- at Tulane, Jan. 7
Key Matchups: Southern Miss beat Tulane twice last season, winning 67-54 at home in the regular season and 63-47 in the Conference USA tournament. In the regular-season meeting, Bolden had 11 points for Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles outrebounded Tulane 37-23. Jordan Callahan had 20 points, including six 3-pointers, for the Green Wave, and Kendall Timmons had 18 points before fouling out. In the conference tourney, LaShay Page had 12 points, and Southern Miss again dominated the glass, 35-23. Timmons had 15 points and five assists for Tulane, which shot just 34 percent.
Trending: Kids hear it all the time. Eat your vegetables and make your free throws. The Golden Eagles missed two front ends of one-and-one free throws in the final minute and that kept East Carolina in the game. Some offensive rebounds helped save them from blowing a game at the free-throw line.
But at this point, coach Larry Eustachy shouldn't be too worried. These young players will grow with experience and the confidence should only build with each pressure situation.
Another reason not to be alarmed? Southern Miss led the conference in free-throw shooting heading into the game and still made 21 of 28 attempts. This team can shoot the basketball and it should only get better as they make their way through the schedule.
- Darnell Dodson came off the bench and gave the Black and Gold a nice lift in Wednesday's win. He finished with 17 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field and made 7 of 8 free throws. Like several of the Golden Eagles, Dodson had tremendous upside and should improve as the season moves along.
- LaShay Page who led all players with 29 points on 6-of-9 3-point shooting in the Golden Eagles' win over McNeese State on Saturday, continues to have the hot hand. The junior guard made 6 of 11 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 20 points in the win over East Carolina. Teams are going to have start playing him tighter and he has the moves to go around defenders playing too tight.