Southern Miss’s recent struggles continue as the team suffered two losses against North Texas, extending its losing streak to eight games. This losing streak is the program’s longest since the 2016-17 season, when the Golden Eagles lost nine consecutive games.
Southern Miss started the first game slowly, slipping to a 14-2 deficit. The Golden Eagles let the Mean Green get open shots on the perimeter, allowing three three-pointers in the first five minutes.
“They’re very well-coached and I think statistically, they’re certainly one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Head Coach Jay Ladner said. “They’re old, meaning that they’re very experienced in actions and […] also with their experience, they’re able to smell things.”
Ladner also said that North Texas did well in covering sophomore forward Tyler Stevenson throughout the game, making it hard for him to score.
“I didn’t think Tyler quite had his game tonight[,] and I know a lot of people are making it very difficult,” Ladner said. “We got to have one of the other guys step up, give us some relief. […] Tyler gives you everything he’s got but tonight, you could just tell he was laboring, and we got to find some other guys to give him some relief.”
Southern Miss found its rhythm against North Texas, though, making them scoreless for over four minutes. Junior guard LaDavius Draine ended the half by making the team’s first three-pointer of the game, closing the Mean Green’s lead down to eight points.
However, Southern Miss lost its chance of making a comeback as North Texas pulled away with the lead, starting the next half on a 12-2 run. Overall, the Mean Green shot with an efficient 56.5% accuracy in the second half, contributing to their eventual win. North Texas’s guard Javion Hamlet scored 12 of his 14 points in the half on four of five attempts.
“It’s just very difficult to overcome those things[,] but that’s been our mode of operation, it seems for a little bit, and I can’t really put my hand on it[,] but I’m just proud of our guys for battling and coming back,” Ladner said. “As usual, I thought they played hard.”
The Golden Eagles warmed up later in the second half, making five of six shots on a run, which was capitalized by a fastbreak dunk from Jaron Pierre Jr. Pierre scored seven points and served four assists in the second half.
The Golden Eagles’ efforts were not enough, though, as North Texas finished out the game 65-49. Stevenson and guard Justin Johnson tied in leading the team with nine points.
Despite the loss, Ladner noted the continued improvement of players from off the bench.
“I kind of think again that group that came in off the bench […] I think they come in there and all of a sudden the game changes,” Ladner said. “It happened in both halves. […] We’ve got to try to figure out that consistency and that’s kind of where we’re struggling a bit, but that’s my job to do that and our coaching staff.
Ladner and his coaching staff did change the lineup for the second game, moving Johnson and forward Tyler Morman into the starting five. Still, Southern Miss similarly got out to a slow start, trailing 9-2 early in the first half. The Golden Eagles managed to bounce back, but, again, the Mean Green pulled away with a 39-22 lead at halftime.
The Golden Eagles struggled from the field, shooting with 33% accuracy in the first half. Stevenson led the Golden Eagles with eight points on three of seven shot attempts, while the rest of the team made four out of 14 shot attempts.
“We have some guys struggling a little bit,” Ladner said. “We dug ourselves into a hole and played well later, but it’s hard to overcome.”
Southern Miss started the second half with more success shooting the ball, but went on another cold streak, going scoreless for nearly five minutes. Southern Miss had also problems containing Hamlet again as he scored 21 points on seven of ten shot attempts. Forward Jahmiah Simmons also scored 17 points on an efficient seven of eight shots for North Texas.
The Golden Eagles eventually found a rhythm, though, putting together a 9-0 run and shot with an improved 46% accuracy in the second half. Still, the Mean Green rode on its early lead to win 68-56.
“We had some chances to cut it to seven or eight in the second half, just a play or two from making a sincere run at it, but overall, I was pleased with the effort in the second half.” Ladner said.
In his first start, Johnson scored ten points in the second half and finished with a career-high of 16 points. Pinckney added 13 points for Southern Miss, ten of which also came in the second half.
Southern Miss will look to snap its losing streak against FIU next weekend.