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Southern Miss Hosting Middle Tennessee for Two-Game Swing

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — With its first Conference USA road trip in the books, the Southern Miss men’s basketball team now focuses on defending home-court against Middle Tennessee Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m.).

TV: ESPN Plus (Lee Roberts and Larry Boyd)
Radio: Learfield IMG Sports Network (Rock 104.5 in Hattiesburg/Laurel) and Gameday app with John Cox
Tickets: None available

Setting the Stage
–    Revenge will be on the mind for Southern Miss as it faces the Blue Raiders, a squad that won all three meetings last season (twice in C-USA bonus play over the final four games). Middle Tennessee’s specialized zone defense led it to win each game by an average margin of 63.7 to 59.3. Tyler Stevenson was Southern Miss’ top performer over those matchups (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 60.0 FG% and 12-for-18 at the foul line).

Weekend in Review
–     The Golden Eagles dropped each game to UAB last weekend (72-60 and 62-58), C-USA’s top team in the NET (entered at 59). Southern Miss fell victim to a large run that began each of the four halves and simply ran out of time Saturday. The squad rallied from 11 down with 6:51 to play and forced a shot-clock violation with 25 ticks left. A turnover led to two UAB free-throws that iced the game. Southern Miss also did not make any subs after the 9:21 mark of the second half.

Inside the Numbers
–     The wins-and-losses splits are transparent. The team’s five victories see it averaging 70.8 points on 45.6 percent shooting, while also allowing 56.6 ppg. The defeats’ numbers flip to 57.3, 41.4 and 68.5, respectively. As a whole, the Golden Eagles rank second in C-USA (and No. 33 nationally) in allowing just 63.1 ppg, which is the team’s best since 2009-10 (59.8 ppg). Yet in its last three games (each of them losses), the squad is shooting 49.2 percent, marked up from 42.9 the previous three (all wins). Three-point shooting and assist-turnover ratio are other deciding factors.

Floor Personnel
–     Southern Miss has limited its rotation over the first four games of C-USA play, as only eight players have appeared in each one. The Golden Eagles are also averaging just 9.8 three-point attempts per game in C-USA play, while those same opponents are averaging 24.3. Stevenson leads the team in league scoring (17.3 ppg), shooting (51.0 percent), free-throw makes, attempts and percentage (73.9) and minutes (37.8 mpg).

Stepping Up, Part 1
–     Jay Malone’s 33 minutes on Saturday were his most against a Division I opponent this year (24 at Tulane). He played the entire second half and finished with a season-high eight points. It was his first time playing 20-plus minutes since the Dec. 15 win at Lamar, six games prior. He is averaging 17.1 mpg this year after 28.4 last season, despite not playing after Jan. 18.

Stepping Up, Part 2
–     DeAndre Pinckney averaged just 13 mpg prior to C-USA play as he rallied back from injury in his first start. Since then, he is averaging 26.5 mpg, which included his first double-double in the Jan. 1 win over UTEP (11 points, 10 rebounds). He had career-highs of 15 points with eight rebounds as he returned to the lineup Saturday, including 3-for-4 from deep (1-for-7 prior).

Rebounding and Halftimes
–     Rebounding has a key strength. Southern Miss boasts a plus-4.1 margin, which is fourth in C-USA. For reference, last year’s team was plus-1.7. Stevenson is fifth in C-USA with 7.1 rpg, and 11 of the 14 wins under Jay Ladner have come when winning that stat. Southern Miss had won four-straight after leading at the half before these last three games’ intermission deficits led to defeats. The Blazers’ 40 points at the break Friday were the most allowed by Southern Miss in that period yet and came on the heels of UTEP’s 47 to close Saturday.

Climbing the Ladder
–     LaDavius Draine passed Glenn Mason (1972-75) and Craig Craft (2005-09) for No. 35 on the school’s career scoring list with 1,034 points. Next up is Roy Danforth (1958-62) and Gary Flowers (2009-11) with 1,066 and 1,078, respectively.

About the Opponent
–     Middle Tennessee was snake-bitten by bad schedule luck with COVID-19, having two games apiece postponed/canceled against Bellarmine and FAU. After falling to FIU on Friday in a defensive struggle, the Blue Raiders erupted with a 31-9 lead over the first 10 minutes and never looked back in a 67-56 win. Its top two scorers, Dontrell Shuler (11.7 ppg) and Jordan Davis (10.9), are transfers from Charleston Southern and Dayton.

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