Watson carries USM to victory over ECU
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 00:03
The Golden Eagles (22-7, 11-3 C-USA) got back to their winning ways on Saturday, as they handily dispatched of the Pirates (16-11, 7-7 C-USA) 88-69 at home. The victory was their tenth in a row over the Pirates, and the second in as many weeks.
Southern Miss guard Neil Watson was a spark plug for the Golden Eagles all game long, as he scored 26 points without missing a shot.
“Nobody’s perfect, but sometimes you’ll have those nights, and tonight happened to be one of my lucky nights,” said Watson of his performance.
Watson converted all seven of his attempts from beyond the arc and went 5-5 from the charity stripe. His 3-point shooting performance was a school and conference record for 3-pointers made without a miss.
The contest was a stalemate early on, as there were seven ties and seven lead changes in the first half. The Pirates outshot the Golden Eagles in the opening period, but Southern Miss entered halftime with a 5-point edge over East Carolina on the strength of 11 offensive rebounds and eight second chance points. The Golden Eagles out-rebounded the Pirates 23-11 in the first half, nine of which were recorded by Southern Miss forward Jonathan Mills. Mills finished with a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with 15 points, logging his third double-double of the season.
Southern Miss head basketball coach Donnie Tyndall gave Mills high praise following the win.
“He’s my favorite player, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit I have a favorite player,” said Tyndall. “That kid’s a winner. He lays it all on the line every single day. He doesn’t get caught up in shots or touches or points. He wants to win.”
Watson led the Golden Eagles with 11 first-half points, and he knocked down his third 3-pointer of the frame just before time expired. The Golden Eagles led the Pirates 36-31 going into halftime after closing out the period on a 12-3 run.
The Golden Eagles carried that momentum into the second half, exploding for 52 points on 65.4 percent shooting from the field. The Golden Eagles never trailed in the period, and at one time held a lead as large as 23 points.
Tyndall was not pleased with his team’s first half effort, but he thought his players turned it around in the second half.
“I liked our effort — 20 assists on 29 made field goals,” said Tyndall. “That shows you’re sharing the ball, and only 3 turnovers in the second half so I thought we played smart.”
East Carolina forward Maurice Kemp entered the contest as C-USA’s leading scorer, but his team-high 23 points were not enough to keep the Pirates in contention with the Golden Eagles’ hot shooting. As a team they hit 13 3-pointers on a prolific 65 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
The Golden Eagles look to continue the hot shooting when they travel to Marshall on Wednesday, before closing out the season at home against UCF.
The Golden Eagles have already secured a first round bye in the Conference USA Tournament that follows regular season play, but Tyndall is not fearful of a let down in the final two games of the season.
“These kids understand what they’re playing for,” said Tyndall. “We may have locked up the No. 2 seed, but we’re playing for what we hope would be an at-large birth if we’re not fortunate enough to win the tournament. And then we come back here in a week - it’s senior night for our three guys so I can’t imagine we wouldn’t play extremely hard for those three guys that night as well.”
The Golden Eagles conclude regular season play when they return to Reed Green Coliseum to host UCF for senior night at 7 p.m. on Saturday.