Men’s Basketball Ready for Sunshine State Swing at FIU
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Southern Miss is set for its final men’s basketball regular-season road trip, this time traveling to sunny Miami to battle FIU on Friday (6 p.m. CT) and Saturday (1 p.m. CT). Both will air on ESPN Plus.
Weekend in Review
North Texas’ defense was too much for Southern Miss to handle in both home games last weekend. The Golden Eagles were held to 22 points at halftime of each contest, but on Saturday they trimmed a 19-point deficit down to nine with less than four minutes to play.
Switch it Up
Amidst recent slow starts, Jay Ladner sought a remedy with a lineup reshuffling. Saturday’s game saw Tyler Morman make his first-career start (13th appearance of the season, now averaging 7.4 minutes per game), while Justin Johnson returned for the third time this year (others were against Jacksonville and South Alabama). It marked the season’s seventh-different lineup.
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Johnson, one of the team’s more-heralded signees, has played his best over the recent stretch. Over his last three outings, he is averaging 10.8 ppg and 25.6 mpg on 21-for-36 shooting (58.3 percent). Johnson was averaging 3.0 points over 13.3 minutes per game going in. This will also be a homecoming for the Fort Lauderdale native, as well as for DeAndre Pinckney (Carol City).
Stevenson Stays Strong
Tyler Stevenson remains one of the league’s biggest threats. His 29-point, 10-rebound in the second Rice game ranks as the second-highest scoring double-double in C-USA play, as well as Southern Miss’ highest-scoring one since Gary Flowers on Feb. 19, 2011 against ECU. Stevenson is leading the team with 14.3 ppg, a 50.7 percent clip from the field, 69 made free-throws (next is Tae Hardy at 38), and rebounds (7.2 per game). His 17.5 ppg in league play ranks sixth, while his 7.4 rpg is fourth.
When FIU and Southern Miss Last Met
Last year’s meeting came on Southern Miss’ Senior Day, and what a treat it was. The Golden Eagles rode a 19-0 first-half run, led by five treys in that span. Leading 70-59 with a minute left, FIU fought to within three before some free-throws finished the job. Stevenson earned his fifth double-double of the season (22 points, 10-of-13 from the field, 11 rebounds), while Gabe Watson had 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.s
FIU is one spot ahead of Southern Miss in the C-USA leaderboard for three-point percentage, but has taken 661 tries to the Golden Eagles’ 330. For the entire season, the Panthers lead the nation in makes (242) and attempts (714). On the flip side, Southern Miss has 10-plus threes in two games this year (South Alabama, Middle Tennessee), while it will look to keep up with FIU’s frenetic style. The Panthers are No. 14 in league play for defensive field goal percentage (47.8) and rebounding margin (-7.8), two categories the Golden Eagles have been seeking improvement on lately.
Southern Miss has won eight of the last nine games in which Artur Konontsuk has scored in double-figures, dating back to last year. The only loss was on South Alabama’s buzzer-beater (Dec. 12). Hardy is also shooting 49.2 percent in team wins compared to 35.0 in losses. Before being held to three points Saturday at Rice, he was in double-figures for five-straight road tilts (52.2 FG%, 45.0 3FG%, 10.7 ppg). Since starting 3-for-8 at the foul line as well, he has made 35 of his last 39 (89.7 percent).
Close Calls on the Road
With the exception of the Feb. 5 game at Rice, Southern Miss was within two possessions in the final 90 seconds of its previous five road games. In its last-such win, a Dec. 15 contest at Lamar, the squad led 24-9 to start to force the Cardinals to play from behind. This is only the team’s second flight of the season (UTSA). Southern Miss’ last trip to FIU was an 89-73 win on Jan. 31, 2019 in which the loaded, senior-dominated team shot 63.3 percent in the first half and made 18 of its final 25 shots.
Keys to the Game
Southern Miss is shooting 72.9 percent from the foul line (sixth in C-USA play), compared to 56.3 in non-conference action. All of the team’s wins have also come when allowing fewer than 70 points, which FIU has done five times in C-USA action. Meanwhile, the Panthers have allowed that many in 10 of its 14 contests. FIU averages 14.7 turnovers per game (Southern Miss is at 13.6) but do force 16.6 per game.
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