Leading by nearly 33 points in the second half, Southern Miss (4-3) cruised past Loyola (4-1) 74-54 to earn its third consecutive win of the season.
Guard LaDavius Draine led Southern Miss on offense scoring a season-high of 21 points, including five three pointers. He became the 38th player in school history to score 1,000 points and surpassed former Golden Eagle Casey Fisher for the second most made three-pointers in school history.
“It’s a huge honor,” Draine said. “Southern Miss means a lot to me and to be considered with all the great players that came through the school, it’s a huge honor.”
The game also featured a father-son matchup between Coach Ladner and his son, Luke, a sophomore guard for the Wolf Pack. In the 17 minutes he played, Luke Ladner scored three points and three rebounds on one of eight shots.
“It was a very odd experience,” Coach Ladner said. “We wanted a very challenging opponent after the break, and they provided the best opportunity of it. I don’t like the emotions because it’s a conflict in that you’re trying to beat them, but I’m one of Loyola’s biggest fans. Both teams were very business-like and have a lot of respect for each other and I don’t relish coaching against my son or my friends.”
Luke Ladner similarly described the experience as strange.
“I’ve been up here [in Hattiesburg for] the last three weeks while we weren’t playing, so I’m up in the stands cheering his team on,” Luke Ladner said. “I’m pretty good friends with all of the team here. To go out there and then we’ve got to play as hard as we can to win the game, it kind of messes with you mentally, but that’s part of the game. We were matched up against each other, so we had to play to win.”
While Southern Miss started the game struggling to shoot the ball, Draine scored five points to give the Golden Eagles an early lead. After both teams exchanged baskets, forward Artur Konontsuk made two consecutive goals to give Southern Miss the edge on the scoreboard.
However, Loyola answered with two straight three-point shots to tie the game 17-17. In his first minute on the court, Luke Ladner drained a three from the right corner, shortly followed by another three from Loyola guard Tim Cameron.
Southern Miss soon found its rhythm on offense and stalled Loyola on defense, though, going on a 13-0 run for over five minutes. Tae Hardy, Konontsuk and Draine each added a three-pointer onto the board. The trio combined for 28 of Southern Miss’s 35 first half points to give the Golden Eagles an eight-point lead at halftime.
Southern Miss started the second half off hot, scoring nine points in two minutes. While the Golden Eagles shot with 38% accuracy in the first half, the team improved to 52% accuracy in the second half.
“At halftime, we thought [that,] as a team, we could have brought more energy and that’s what we did,” Hardy said. “We came out and played hard.”
Coach Ladner said that there were no major adjustments at halftime. He only talked to the team about improving on defensive fundamentals.
“We didn’t change anything at halftime, […] we just said we’ve got to do what we do better, and it primarily centered on the defensive end,” Coach Ladner said. “I thought that those first five or six minutes of the second half, we got our hands on a lot of balls, deflected a lot of balls, stole a lot of balls and created some offense from our defense.”
The change in energy saw Southern Miss grow to a 33 point lead in the second half. Guard Jaron Pierre Jr. and forward Tyler Stevenson started to fire on offense, each scoring six points. Meanwhile, junior forward Deandre Pinckney scored on all seven of his attempts in the second half, which set his career high.
“You’re just starting to see a glimpse of Deandre Pinckney,” Coach Ladner said. “[He] got hurt in the first half of the Jacksonville opener and he was out for a long time and [he’s] just getting back. They just need playing time.”
Draine capped off his impressive performance with eight points on three straight possessions for the Golden Eagles. With a large lead in the second half, Southern Miss started to sub in its reserves as it secured the victory.
Southern Miss will next play at the beginning of 2021, starting conference play on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Due to the new conference format for this season, the Golden Eagles will host UTEP for two consecutive games.
Draine explains what he believes the team needs to improve as it moves to conference play.
“We just need to come out in the first half how we come out in the second half,” Draine said. “Sometimes in the first half, we don’t have the offensive rhythm and the flow[,] we take a lot of bad shots in the beginning. We let that change to the defensive end. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in the beginning of the game and Coach has emphasized just coming out playing hard and playing loose.”