Southern Miss played its final home game of the season on Leap Day. They hope this one small step results in one giant leap into the NCAA Tournament.
Southern Miss led the entire game Wednesday night against visiting SMU and held on late for a 67-60 win. The Golden Eagles shot 52.2 percent (24-of-46) from the field. Southern Miss didn't defend the dribble-drive well in the first half but came out strong to start the second half and controlled the second half at both ends of the floor.
The Golden Eagles remain one game behind Memphis for the C-USA lead. A Memphis win over Tulsa on Saturday will give the Tigers sole possession of first place in Conference USA. A Memphis loss and a Southern Miss win at Marshall will result in the teams sharing the regular-season title.
The Golden Eagles hope to make it awfully tough to not get a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Their 24 wins is the most in school history and their 15-0 mark at home is the first time the team has gone undefeated at home since the 1967-68 season.
The Golden Eagles continue to improve, and despite not always playing their best they are winning games. If Southern Miss can put it all together, they can play with anyone, not just in the league but in the country.
Southern Miss has now won nine of 11 and improved to 24-6 overall and 11-4 in Conference USA. The Golden Eagles finish their Conference USA regular-season schedule on Saturday at Marshall.
The Thundering Herd is coming off an overtime loss Wednesday at East Carolina and will be honoring their seniors. It's not going to be easy for the Golden Eagles. But it would be a nice step toward that giant leap.
- Neil Watson is bringing his 'A' game down the stretch for the Golden Eagles. The sophomore guard had a big second half in Wednesday's win over SMU, scoring 13 of his team-high 18 points after halftime. Watson, who scored 13 in the Golden Eagles' win Saturday over Rice, hit 8 of 14 shots to help Southern Miss shoot down visiting SMU.
- Maurice Bolden had 11 points for the Golden Eagles in their win over SMU. Other than Neil Watson (18 points) he was the only other Golden Eagle to reach double digits. The guard hit 3 of 7 shots in 29 minutes. He also grabbed five rebounds and hit 5 of 6 free-throw attempts. Bolden is averaging 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. He also is 10th in the conference with 1.1 blocks per game.
By The Numbers: 400-Career wins for coach Larry Eustachy, who reached the milestone with a 58-56 victory over Rice on Feb. 25.
Quote To Note: "I was trying to loosen (Jonathan) Mills up. It looked like he was going to swallow a goat or something." - Coach Larry Eustachy, on why he did a dance during the timeout with 0.6 seconds left against Rice. Mills subsequently sank the game-winning free throws.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Games:
- at Marshall, March 3
Key Matchups: Sophomore G DeAndre Kane leads Marshall with an average of 15.7 points a game, and senior G Damier Pitts has a 14.3 scoring average. Southern Miss defeated Marshall 67-63 at home on Jan. 21 as sophomore G Neil Watson scored 18 points and dished out five assists for the Golden Eagles. Junior G LaShay Page added 15 points for Southern Miss. Marshall was led by Kane's 21 points.
On The Spot: Rebounding wins basketball games - Southern Miss is proof of that. The Golden Eagles outrebounded the visiting Mustangs 37-19 on their way to a 67-60 win. SMU, not one of the better rebounding teams in the league, managed only three offensive rebounds all night. The Golden Eagles are outrebounding their opponents 36.8 to 32.2, a difference of 4.6 per game, third best in Conference USA.
Futures Market: Sophomore G Neil Watson, a junior college transfer, has emerged as one of Southern Miss's top players in his first season at the Division I level. He was averaging 12.1 points and a team-high 4.6 assists through Feb. 25.
- Junior G LaShay Page missed Southern Miss' 58-56 victory over Rice on Feb. 25 following the death of his mother three days earlier. Page is also expected to miss the final two regular-season games, against Southern Methodist on Feb. 29 and at Marshall on March 3.
- Junior F Jonathan Mills is emerging as a scoring threat in the low post late in the season. He had scored in double figures in six straight games through Feb. 25, averaging 16.0 points to raise his season average to 9.6. Mills had been in double digits just once in nine games before his streak.
- Senior G Darnell Dodson is becoming a non-factor at the end of the season. In four of his last five games through Feb. 25, Dodson scored in single digits and played 16 minutes or fewer. He averaged 5.2 points during that stretch to lower his season average to 11.2.