Southern Miss lost both games in its last conference series of the season against Florida Atlantic University (FAU), finishing the regular season with an 8-16 (4-13 Conference USA) record.
After trailing by 17 in the second half, the Golden Eagles narrowed the score within three points with two minutes remaining. However, FAU made two straight threes and won the first game 69-60.
“We had the momentum. The crowd was into the game. [… It] was just a momentum shift,” guard LaDavius Draine said of the loss.
The Golden Eagles were initially caught off guard by the Owls’s shooting game. While the Owls only made 3-15 from the perimeter in the second half, the team made 10 of its 17 attempts in the first half.
“We give up a lot of size and so we have to help with an offside defender to keep [Karlis Silinis, FAU forward] from beating us at the rim and they did such a good job of throwing the ball against that man,” Ladner said. “Some of them haven’t traditionally been great three-point shooters, but you’ve got to give them credit. They stepped in there tonight and made them in the first half.”
The Golden Eagles had a double-digit deficit at halftime as the Owls scored 30 points from the perimeter. However, they adjusted plans accordingly to pick up momentum in the second half.
“We did a better job in the second half based on adjustment. I have to give Coach [Kyle] Roane credit for that,” Ladner said.
Southern Miss started the second half slow offensively, making only one of its 11 attempts. Draine finally sparked the offense with his third three-pointer of the night, and the Golden Eagles started its comeback run.
“That’s been a problem all year. It really has and then we change things around,” Ladner said about the offensive struggles throughout the game. “I thought we did better once we got into a defensive rhythm and started passing the ball and executing on offense, getting the ball side to side. I thought that’s when we were most effective.”
Ladner also says that the offense started playing well when Draine started to produce.
“In the second half, he got going and it’s amazing once he got going, how that opened things up for us because they had to stay attached to him,” Ladner said.
Prior to this series, Draine had slumped to four points per game on 10-41 shooting over the last four conference series. Draine finished the night with a team-high of 17 points on 5-11 shooting and four of eight three-point attempts.
“I’ve just been focusing on shooting the same shot consistently,” Draine said. “I know sometimes, Coach tells me my wrist goes to the right or left a little bit. I just tried to focus on shooting straight.”
The second game was more of the same for Southern Miss: another comeback from a double-digit deficit that fell short.
The Golden Eagles trailed by 16 points five minutes into the second half, but guard Tae Hardy led Southern Miss on its comeback. Hardy erupted in the second half, earning 23 points on seven of ten shot attempts. Hardy made four of six three-pointers. His final three gave the Golden Eagles a one-point lead with three minutes remaining.
“He just got going and that was great to watch,” Ladner said. “I thought he really put us on his back, and he did a great job.”
However, Southern Miss missed its last three shots. The Owls took the win after they made three consecutive three-pointers, ending the game 73-66.
Hardy was the top scorer of the game, finishing with 32 points. He also took the title of most points earned in a home game, passing former Golden Eagle Charles Gaines’s record of 36.
“I just tried to go out there and give as much as I could to make the team fired up. It was our seniors’ last home game, so I wanted to go out there and end it with a bang. It was a tough loss,” Hardy said.
Both seniors, Draine and guard Clay Weatherspoon, were in the starting lineup for senior night. This was Weatherspoon’s first start of his career. Hardy describes the impact both of the seniors had on him in first year at Southern Miss.
“They are very positive people,” Hardy said. “Those guys are like two peas in a pod, it’s like you see one, you see the other. Clay’s always telling me at timeouts to stay positive to keep the energy. Clay was a great leader behind the scenes.”
Hardy says that Draine also made him more competitive in shooting, and displayed an example of what a great teammate is.
Southern Miss lost 10 of its last 11 games in the regular season, but Ladner says his team’s spirit is “unbroken” heading into the C-USA Basketball Championships in March.
“Our spirits are good and our guys will come out ready next weekend and keep battling and getting better,” Ladner said. “I have no doubt about that.”