Junior Norville Carey takes a shot for the Eagles at their game on Thursday, Feb. 26. Southern Miss won their game againt UTSA 70-66.- Abby Smith
In a year filled with a myriad of issues on and off the court, Southern Miss will play its final game of the season on the road against Louisiana Tech Thursday evening.
While many expected the Golden Eagles to have a strong year on the court, allegations by the NCAA and players’ dismissals changed the dynamic for success.
Riding a two-game winning streak and completing the largest comeback in school history in its last game, Southern Miss (9-19, 4-13) will look to end the season on a high note, preparing to re-establish itself as a powerhouse team in Conference USA.
However, the Golden Eagles will have their hands full in slowing down the Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech (23-7, 14-3) sits in first place in C-USA, averaging 73 points per game. The Bulldogs rank first in steals and blocks, second in assists, fourth in scoring defense and fifth in free-throw percentage.
In an earlier meeting between the two teams this season, La. Tech defeated USM 83-70, using a strong first half and a consistent second half to get the victory on the road.
Much of the Bulldogs’ success comes from the depth and play of their guards, combining for over half of the offensive production for the team.
Alex Hamilton, a junior guard, ranks sixth in the conference in scoring, averaging 16 points per game for the Bulldogs. Raheem Appleby, the second leading scorer on the team, averages 15 points per game and ranks eighth in the conference in scoring.
Both Appleby and Hamilton play nearly every game to its entirety, averaging 30 or more minutes. The other guards critical to La. Tech’s success are Kenneth Smith and Xavian Stapleton.
Smith, who averages six points in 33 minutes, leads the league in assists with seven per game, making the most of his contribution on the team by distributing the ball to others to make plays.
Stapleton, a 6-foot, 6-inch freshman guard, averages just over six points per game in 16 minutes. With his length and his athleticism, he has the ability to hinder the scoring of opposing players as well as serve as a scoring threat on offense.
In terms of forwards, the Bulldogs feature two guys who can crash the boards, block shots and score as well.
Michale Kyser, a 6-foot, 10-inch forward, averages eight points and seven rebounds per game, ranking 11th in the conference and first in block shots with three per game, respectively. Erik McCree averages 12 points and six rebounds per game.
For USM to win, they will need huge contributions from Chip Armelin, Matt Bingaya and Norville Carey. In the comeback victory against UTEP, the trio combined for 50 of the team’s 63 total points.
Southern Miss can earn another C-USA upset if they can get a strong start from its top three scorers, maintain consistent offensive production and incorporate Shadell Millinghaus into the game, who led the team in scoring last time with 17 points to go along with six assists and four rebounds.
Although Southern Miss ranks last in the conference in scoring offense as well as offensive and defensive rebounds, the Golden Eagles will have to find a way to clean the boards against the Bulldogs’ forwards and limit the opportunities for their guards to score during the game.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Southern Miss did not play well in the first half, trailing 45-29 at the half. However, the offense came to life in the second half, scoring 41 points despite the loss.
It will be imperative that the Golden Eagles to start strong in all aspects of the game, maintain the level of play and finish the game strong to earn the victory.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Reed Green Coliseum.