To say the Southern Miss men’s basketball team faced its fair share of turmoil through the first half of this season is an understatement. A home loss to the William Carey Crusaders back in November was one of the low points in non-conference play, and they dug a rather deep hole for themselves by dropping their first three games in conference play. Be that as it may, head coach Doc Sadler and the Golden Eagles stayed the course, and amidst all the criticism, they have somehow managed to claw back into the postseason picture. Even more, they have done it with style.
On Saturday, while a majority of the sports world was focused on preparations for Super Bowl LIII, Southern Miss (14-9, 6-5 C-USA) defeated Florida Atlantic 74-72 on the road for its second win over the Owls this season and its third straight conference victory, which is tied for the longest streak in Sadler’s tenure with the program. The Golden Eagles outlasted a late-game surge, largely due to 16 second-half points from senior guard Cortez Edwards, who made 10 of 13 shots for 22 points to go along with six steals, five assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers.
In the last three games, the Golden Eagles have been red-hot from the field, sinking 60.8 percent of their basket attempts. Edwards has climbed onto Southern Miss’ top 25 all-time scorers list (currently sitting at No. 22), and he is one steal shy of passing Casey Fisher (1984-88) for second most all-time in that category.
Redshirt senior guard Tyree Griffin leads the team with four 20-point scoring performances this year, while junior forward Leonard Harper-Baker has earned a great deal of respect on the court as well with roughly 10 points and eight rebounds per game. Sophomore guard LaDavius Draine has made a staggering 45.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc and has been a key bench contributor. All in all, the Golden Eagles have significantly changed their own narrative with one month remaining in the regular season.
How much has it changed, exactly? Well, Southern Miss now sits at No. 7 in the Conference USA standings, with only two conference wins separating them from No. 1 Old Dominion. The team’s last three conference games before bonus play begins will be at home, where the Golden Eagles are 7-2 on the season. If the conference tournament started today, not only would Southern Miss make the cut for the second year in a row, it would be the hottest group in the mix.
Despite the shaky start and immense criticism, Doc Sadler’s team has soared into 2019 and secured its first winning record in five years. With March Madness right around the corner, the Golden Eagles have made a turnaround that demands fans’ respect and attention. The only question remaining is: How far can this momentum take them? There is only one way to find out. Tune in and buckle up for the ride.