Despite five straight losses, and head coach Jay Ladner out with illness, the Southern Miss men’s basketball team (5-14, 1-5 C-USA) defeated the Rice Owls (9-10, 1-5 C-USA) for its first conference win of the season.
“We came together as a team really during practice,” Tyler Stevenson said. “With coach being out, him still talking to us [via cell phone,} Coach Roane, Coach Weatherspoon, Coach Hill, they emphasized we need to come together and play defense, so we did what we needed to do.”
Stevenson started off the first half with a dunk followed by a three pointer from Jay Malone. A layup by Josh Parrish put Rice on the board to which Stevenson responded with a layup. Back to back three pointers by Trey Murphy briefly gave the Owls the lead; however, a jumper and free throw from Stevenson put the Golden Eagles back in front.
Malone gave Southern Miss an increased advantage with four more three pointers for the half. In addition, Boban Jadonmi had two jumpers with Leonard Harper-Baker and LaDavius Draine each contributing one. A layup from Harper-Baker and two free throws from Artur Konontsuk resulted in a halftime score of 34-30.
At the start of the second half, the Golden Eagles had a run, which included a jumper and layup from Malone, a three pointer from Draine and two free throws from Stevenson. Stevenson had 24 points for the night trailing Malone by three for the leader spot.
Southern Miss kept the lead for the remainder of the game with a final score of 81-68, breaking the losing streak for the Golden Eagles. Associate head coach Kyle Roane led the Golden Eagles in the absence of Ladner.
“For them to let a substitute teacher so to speak walk into the classroom and for us to be that locked in makes us proud. The substitute was myself, Coach Spoon, Coach Hill and the rest of our staff,” Roane said. “For us to all have one common goal and win, we really needed to protect our home floor, and I thought you could tell that with the energy our guys displayed.”
After the Golden Eagles’ most recent loss to North Texas, it was evident that the primary area of improvement was defense. Between the two games, the squad reduced their turnovers from 14 to nine.
“We defended. You take a team like Rice who makes a lot of threes, scores a lot of points, and we were able to defend them, hold them to their league average of nine threes and I thought that was huge,” Roane said. “One of the biggest stats for us is to only turn it over as minimal times as we did. And to make 29 field goals and to have 25 assists on those.”
Malone and his teammates came into practice determined to make a stand by winning their first conference game.
“We play off each other. We have been building this brotherhood since day one,” Malone said. “We always talk to each other on the court to keep each other motivated.”
The Golden Eagles will travel to UAB on Jan. 23 to take on the Blazers at 7 p.m.