Southern Miss basketball left the Yum! Center last week with an awful, cringe-worthy taste in their collective mouth. The team had just been defeated in embarrassing fashion by a ninth-ranked Louisville squad that raked the Eagles over the coals in a dominant 69-38 win. It was the lowest point total of Donnie Tyndall's career in Hattiesburg and effectively brought his players back down to reality.
"They're a pretty good team. We didn't come really prepared," Chip Armelin said. "That was kind of like a wakeup call so we had to get ourselves back together, step by step, so we took it one game at a time in practice."
In the team's first major test of the season, they fell flat. But Tyndall -- who has never been shy to criticize himself or his players -- was determined not to let that performance hinder their preparation moving forward. So he challenged his squad to step up to the plate.
"He challenges us the same way after every win and every loss, more so the losses because he's very competitive," Neil Watson said. "He (doesn't) like losing (and) neither do we, so he definitely challenged us to come out and practice hard this week."
Southern Miss came back from Kentucky with a renewed sense of vigor to fix the mistakes and build off of the loss. The Golden Eagles returned to campus for the start of a three-game home stretch Wednesday and did just that, easily dispatching of Tyndall's former Morehead State squad by double digits. A convincing win against a solid program like MSU has helped revitalize the energy within the locker room and serves as an apt reminder to the college basketball world: this team is no pushover.
"We accepted (the challenge) because, like our coach, we were disappointed in the way we played at Louisville," Watson said. "We felt we could have gave a better effort. We felt we didn't play hard for our coach. He gives so much to us, the least we can do is go out there and play hard."
And play hard they did. Four players collected double figures in the win and Southern Miss controlled the tempo for almost the entire game. Tyndall's vaunted press caused 24 Morehead State turnovers and the Eagles now boast five different guys who are averaging 9 points or more per game.
That kind of production across the board has kept USM versatile and adaptable to whatever other teams throw their way. It's also a big reason why the program is off to a solid 7-1 start to open the year.
"We definitely got some guys that can put the ball in the rim on this team. It might be Neil or it might be Jerrold one day. Hey, it might be me one day," Michael Craig said. "We're deep as far as guys putting the ball in the rim. One guy might have a good practice one week and another guy might step up and have a good practice so we all share the ball. We have no selfish guys on our team."
That's good news for Southern Miss fans, who will be able to catch this humble array of gritty point scorers in Reed Green Coliseum two more times before the team hits the road for three straight away games to end the month of December. The Eagles face Georgia State (3-5) Saturday at 3 p.m. and close out the home stretch against St. Catharine College Dec. 14.
GSU enters the contest with only one Division I win. St. Catharine, a member of the Mid-South Conference, isn't even a Division I team. But that won't matter for Donnie Tyndall and his Golden Eagles.
"He treats every game the same," Craig said. "We came off a bad loss but you just go back to the basics, go back to practice and work hard every day."