Southern Miss’s men’s basketball season came to an end March 9 as Rice pulled away with a late run to advance past the first round of the C-USA Championships.
Southern Miss gained a lead in the second half, but failed to stop a 18-3 run that closed the game.
“Up to that point, we literally had everything going for us,” Head Coach Jay Ladner said. “It was an incredible second half.”
The Golden Eagles fought from a seven-point deficit at halftime and gained the lead, but suffered from a scoring drought, an issue that has plagued the team throughout the season.
“How often have we been in that situation?” Ladner asked. “Most of the time we’ve been fighting from behind and there’s no substitute for experience, but I thought our guys gave a winning effort. I’m incredibly proud of them.”
Southern Miss’s junior trio of Tyler Stevenson, Tae Hardy and DeAndre Pinckney combined for 37 of the team’s 52 points.
Ladner says the outcome only hurt him because it sent off the team’s seniors, Clay Weatherspoon and LaDavius Draine, on a bad note.
“I just hate it for them. I told Coach Richard Williams earlier at our pregame meal that I am praying that LaDavius has a great game tonight,” Ladner said. “I wanted for his sake for him to finish out what’s been an outstanding career, but it just didn’t fall for him and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Draine finished the game with two points on one of seven shot attempts. He finished his career with 1,131 career points and 220 three-pointers, the second most in school history.
Southern Miss started the game down 10-4, but Hardy tied the game with a three-pointer and an and-one. Pinckney and Stevenson also added to the Golden Eagles’ 12-2 run.
The Owls responded with a 15-2 run of its own, keeping Southern Miss scoreless for more than six minutes. Hardy ended the drought with a jumper before the end of the half, narrowing the Owls’ lead to 27-20.
The Golden Eagles started the second half strong, going on a 11-0 run to regain the lead. Stevenson and Pinckney made five combined shots in the paint. While Southern Miss made 10 points in the paint in the first half, the team scored 24 of its 29 second half points from the paint.
The Golden Eagles kept toe-to-toe the Owls, who have the top two three-point shooters in the conference. The Owls only got one of its eight shooting attempts from the perimeter in the first half.
However, sophomore Travis Evee, C-USA’s second ranked three-point shooter, gave the Owls a boost from the perimeter by making four threes in the second half. Sophomore Max Fielder also caused problems for Southern Miss as he notched a 17 point and 11 rebound double-double on top of four steals.
Ladner described the coaches and players as “hurt” in the locker room after the game, but took positives from their reaction for next season.
“There’s a lot of tears flowing right now in that locker room and that makes me proud of our guys in our program,” Ladner said. “It bothers them, and they care. We just got to keep working and get better. We’ve made a step where we can compete, but the bottom line is winning and next year we need to do what we need to do to make a run at this thing.”