Southern Miss Golden Eagles opened the game against the Marshall Thundering Herd with a 3-2 lead, that would be their only lead until senior guard Neil Watson’s three-pointer with 2 seconds remaining, to take a 58-57 lead. After a failed possession and an intentional foul, the Golden Eagles added two more free throws to end the game. Southern Miss defeated the Thundering Herd in a Thursday night matchup, 60-57.
Watson ended the game with only 10 points but the other seven points were not as important as the three at the top of the key to win the game. Senior forward Michael Craig looked like a “stat line stuffer,” as he was able to score 12 points, shoot 100% from the field (4 for 4), snag seven rebounds, dish four assists, and reject two shots. The Golden Eagles as a team struggled from the charity stripe shooting right above 50%.
The win versus Marshall made Southern Miss one of six teams with 20 or more wins in each of the last five seasons.
The Golden Eagles basketball team faced the Charlotte 49ers on Feb. 9, in front of a electric crowd. Donnie Tyndall’s team entered the game 20-3 (8-1), with only one loss in conference coming in a close 75-71 loss to Tulsa. Southern Miss got off to a slow start much like the game against Marshall. It took Watson’s play on the defensive end to set the tone for the offense. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 29-18 lead with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the first half and never looked back. The Golden Eagles scored 40 or more points in each half and went into halftime with a 19-point lead, 41-22. As time expired, Watson went down with an apparent ankle injury.
In the second half with the absence of Watson, senior guard Jerrold Brooks stepped up big time. Brooks ended the first half with only five points, with the increase in opportunity Brooks ended the game with 19 points. The senior from Rochester, N.Y., sparked the Golden Eagles largest lead of 21 points midway through the second half. Craig played yet another efficient game, scoring 14 points as he went 5 for 7 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line. He also grabbed 8 rebounds and added another highlight reel dunk.
The win versus Charlotte gives the Golden Eagles (21-3) their best start in 40 years. Last week the Golden Eagles were on the outside looking in when the USA Today Top 25 Coaches’ Poll was released, they were ranked 29. Following their win against the 49ers, Southern Miss’ RPI is 38th in the nation out of 351 Division I teams. Their strength of schedule is 170th in all of Division I basketball, which is just good enough to be middle of the road.
In the midst of a conference victory, the Golden Eagles lost senior Neil Watson to an ankle injury. Watson was carried off the court at halftime. He returned to the court in a different pair of shoes and a noticeable limp. The star guard did not return to the game. Head coach Donnie Tyndall described the injury as a “mild sprain.”
“X-rays will be ran tomorrow just to be on the safe side,” Tyndall later added.
One thing that has helped the undersized Golden Eagles is Tyndall’s aggressive defensive style. The Golden Eagles had 25 points off turnovers. Defensively, Southern Miss remains in the top 20 in points allowed by giving up on average 62 points per game. In steals per game the team ranks 29th in the nation with 8.1 per game.
Black and gold nation will be keeping an eye on the top 25 polls this week, with there the squad being so close last week to getting into the top 25. The Golden Eagles will be on the road against the UAB Blazers and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The game versus the Blazers should be a win for the Golden Eagles. The Blazers have struggled in the new C-USA, only winning three of their nine conference games. The Blue Raiders are only one game out of first place. Their two conference losses have come to UTEP, co-leader of the conference, and Tulsa. Tulsa is Southern Miss’ lone conference loss. The Golden Eagles could show how good they are to the poll voters with a victory against Middle Tennessee.