Southern Miss struggled, to say the least, in its season opener, losing to Memphis on the road 67- 49 on Saturday.
There is no easy way to put it. The Golden Eagles were awful against the Tigers. USM’s starters combined for just 12 points on 5-of- 21 shooting. As a team, the Golden Eagles shot just 26.9 percent from the field and 29 percent from behind the arc.
The Tigers asserted their dominance early, racing out to a 12-2 lead not even five minutes into
the game. The Golden Eagles did not get anything going in the first half and committed 11 turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game alone.
“Anytime you get off to a start like we did with the turnovers and (allowing) transition baskets, you are going to be out of the game real quick,” said head coach Doc Sadler. “You take points from the free throw line, the points in transition and points off of turnovers and it is a different basketball game.”
Take all of those things away and of course it will be a different game, but that first half highlighted just how much this team is going to struggle in the early going. Norville Carey’s decision to redshirt while the Golden Eagles face yet another postseason ban will cost USM a great deal, and it showed in the season opener.
While Carey may not be a superstar, he is the only player on this roster that has played significant minutes at this level of college basketball. If he were out there on the court, USM likely would look a lot better.
His presence inside and leadership would bring a calming influence to a young and inexperienced roster. But just like you cannot simply just take away points in transition and off of turnovers, you cannot just take away the best player on your team and expect to have a smooth transition.
USM trailed at the half 36-20, but USM showed small signs of life in the second half. Eddie Davis III, who led the team with 13 points, scored 10 in the second half and all of Michael Ramey’s 10 points came in the second half. The Golden Eagles were only outscored by two in the second half, 31-29, cutting back on costly mistakes, five turnovers and taking more efficient shots.
“It is such a young basketball team,” Sadler said. “Maybe the score looked a little worse than it was because I think we started to get some things moving in our direction in the second half.”
After Memphis once again dominated to start the second half, using a 18-5 run to extend their lead to 54-25, the Golden Eagles went on an impressive 15-2 run of their own. Granted, most of the Memphis regulars had already been removed from the game, it is still something positive the Golden Eagles can take away from the otherwise embarrassing showing.
It will be interesting to see what changes Sadler makes to the starting lineup moving forward as the bench totaled 37 points, 25 more than the starters. Davis III proved his worth, adding eight rebounds to his 13 points, and Michael O’Donnell led the team in minutes played (35) and rebounds with 13, including eight on the offensive end.
None of the starters saw significant playing time as none of them played exceptionally well. Raheem Watts only played seven minutes, committing three turnovers and missing both of his shot attempts. Tim Rowe and Keljin Blevins both logged 16 minutes while Kourtlin Jackson only played 15. Khari Price led the starters with 22 minutes and three assists, but shot just 1-of-6 from the field.
Do not be surprised if either Davis III or O’Donnell replace Watts in the starting lineup when USM hosts Jackson State Tuesday. Despite an unimpressive performance, Rowe will likely stay in the starting lineup due to his size as the 6-feet, 11-inch freshman is the only player on the roster taller than 6-feet, 7-inches.
The Golden Eagles will likely look better as Jackson State is a much lesser opponent than Memphis, but with such an inexperienced roster, it is impossible to predict how USM will play. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Reed Green Coliseum.