Last season, it took Southern Miss 32 games to record seven wins, and in just one year the Golden Eagles matched those overall wins after dominating Mobile 103-52 to remain undefeated.
“It’s been fun so far, but I’m excited to see where we’re going,” said Southern Miss trainer Jay Ladner. “It feels good (to match last year’s overall win) but I’m also hungry for more. We have to make more than seven wins.
“We still have a long way to go to make up for the awful feeling in my stomach and mouth from all these losses over the past few years. We have a lot to improve. Sometimes a win can mask the stink. Basically, we have a lot of leeway (in defence). I think we missed chances. I know we did it in Cancun by throwing the ball away and mishandling the ball. These are things we need to keep working on. We have a tough track the rest of the way. We’ll take them one game at a time. I know it’s a coaching cliché, but the bottom line is that’s the only way we can do it.”
The Golden Eagles’ 7-0 start is the fourth in program history not to include vacant seasons.
Southern Miss made quick work of Mobile (3-4) as the Golden Eagles built a 15-point lead by the 12-minute mark of the first half.
Southern Miss’s offense seemed to click on all cylinders as the Golden Eagles shot 59% in both halves. Leading at USM was a 24-point performance from Austin Crowley, along with a double-double from Felipe Haase, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Crowley scored 15 of his points in the second game and hit three slam dunks and three 3-pointers in the game.
“I had a lot of open looks,” Crowley said of his performance in the second half. “I think I made a couple of wrong plays in the first half where I should have just kicked. I really think my teammates just found me in the empty seats in the second half.
“I’ve been getting a lot of dunks lately, and they’ve all been without assists as well. I have to give my teammates credit for that. I get a steal every now and then and I get a dunk, but most come from assists.
Defensively, which was the biggest difference of the Southern Miss season, the Golden Eagles had 38 points from 24 turnovers and kept Mobile on a shot just 36%.
“We’ve always said we wanted to change and be the new Southern Miss,” Crowley said. “It was a tough season for them last year and I’m glad we were able to match their wins in the first seven games. I think the energy in the dressing room gave us that extra boost to be better than last year. I see nothing stopping us.
“A lot of people have forgotten about Southern Miss and don’t think we’re a basketball school. We are here to change that.”
Notably, DeAndre Pinckney scored 12 points, while Donovan Ivory also scored 10 points.
According to Kenpom.com Basketball Ratings, the Golden Eagles have the biggest ranking improvement in the country, with USM starting the season at 324 and improving to 197.
The Golden Eagles have respectable wins over Liberty (96) and Vanderbilt (77), both of whom are in the top 100 kenpom ratings, as well as a win over Winthrop (210), who has played for the Big South championship in recent three years.
Over the next five games, Southern Miss has a favorable stretch ahead to extend that undefeated mark as their next four opponents have a combined record of 13-14, all with Kepom ratings below 200, with only one having a winning record. Those opponents include Montana (3-4), Lamar (3-4), whom USM will play twice, and McNeese State (2-4). The lone team with a winning record is Nonwestern State (5-2), who recorded a 64-63 win over No. 15 TCU earlier in the season.
Nefatli Alverez has missed playing time since November 15 after being eliminated early by Loyola with a foot injury.
“Nefta is week to week,” Ladner said. “I think he’s ahead of schedule. He’s out of his boot. He shot. Doctors won’t let him pass and cut, but he can catch, shoot and handle the ball. He already is. He said every day that he felt better. We keep our fingers crossed.”
Southern Miss was also without Deinjay Harris, who cracked his ribs against Purdue Fort Wayne.
“Denijay had a kid come out from under him in the Purdue-Fort Wayne game and he landed hard,” Ladner said. “It was one of the hardest falls I’ve ever seen and he broke his ribs. He will visit a local specialist (on Monday).
“Based on what our coaches have told me, this type of injury has to do with pain tolerance. The more he can process, the faster he can play.”
Southern Miss hosts Montana on Tuesday night, with the tip scheduled for 7 p.m
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