Despite struggles throughout the game with shooting the ball, Southern Miss (3-3) relied on a strong defensive performance to fight for a 60-47 victory over Louisiana Monroe (ULM, 2-4). The victory gives Southern Miss its first consecutive wins of the season.
“I’m just proud of our defensive game plan [and] I was proud of our defensive effort,” Head Coach Jay Ladner said. “Of course, when you hold a team to 35%, you know you’re doing good. We didn’t shoot much better, but we did score some key times.”
While the Golden Eagles shot with an overall accuracy of 34%, top scorers LaDavius Draine and Tae Hardy gave the team much needed offensive production. Draine led the team with 17 points and made five three-point shots to tie with Casey Fisherfor the most three-point shots made in school history. Draine also recorded 10 rebounds to earn his first double-double of the season. Hardy, meanwhile, put 16 points on the board, making five of his nine shots.
Ladner praised the defensive performance of forward Denijay Harris throughout the game, as he was tasked guarding the Warhawks’ top scorer, Russell Harrison. Harrison struggled from the field, only making two of twelve shot attempts. Harris also grabbed 10 rebounds from ULM and had three steals.
“[Harris] did an incredible job, harassed [Harrison] all night and I thought he just played really, really well and I thought our defensive effort was outstanding,” Ladner said.
Both teams shot poorly to begin the game, missing a combined 44 shots in the first half. The Golden Eagles limited the Warhawks to 26 points, which marked the fifth time in six games that Southern Miss held an opponent to under 30 points in the first half.
Southern Miss jumped to an eight-point lead during an early run and scoring drought from ULM. Hardy flexed his shooting ability from mid-range, making three baskets to extend the Golden Eagles’ lead. However, the team fell into a shooting slump soon after, only making one of twelve shots for over a five-minute period, letting the Warhawks slip into the lead.
Guard Jay Malone gave Southern Miss a boost on offense at the end of the first half, sinking both of his field goal attempts. The Golden Eagles ended the first period with a 27-26 lead. Malone explains how the team fought through shooting slumps in the game.
“During the time that we were cold, I feel like we played defense well to back up our bad offense so really just, we had to stay on course and continue to trust the process,” Malone said.
Both teams continued to struggle shooting the ball at the start of the second half. While the Warhawks turned the ball over six times in three minutes, the Golden Eagles only converted points off of one.
Hardy found his rhythm again from mid-range by making two straight shots to reignite Southern Miss’s offense. After missing his first six shots of the game, freshman guard Jaron Pierre Jr. made two consecutive three-pointers. Ladner praised Hardy’s shot-making abilities for powering the offense throughout the game, allowing the team to keep momentum.
“Tae was the one guy that was able to score for us and find and find us some baskets,” Ladner said. “Tae is such an intense competitor, he’s a highly motivated young man [and] he’s a winner.”
Southern Miss’s success shooting also translated to more points at the charity stripe. Tyler Stevenson and Hardy made all of their free throw shots after being fouled, giving the Golden Eagles an 11-point advantage, its largest lead of the game. Southern Miss made all eight of its free throw attempts in the second half, an area that the unit has struggled with this season.
“Coming into the night, I mean it’s not secret […] but we were 49% which is, there’s no other way to put it, that’s embarrassing,” Ladner said. “We’re probably the lowest in Division One, even if we’re not officially the lowest, I told them we were. It’s embarrassing not to be able to make free throws better, but we shot them in the second half like we’re supposed to shoot them. Eight of eight, can’t do any better than that.”
Southern Miss closed the game out strong, as Draine added two more three-pointers to finish 60-47. Draine explains how he thinks winning consecutive games for the first time this season will help the team moving forward.
“It’s a big momentum booster,” Draine said. “Coach always tells us, ‘We [can] continue to learn how to win and we can be one of the best defensive teams in the country once we put our mind to it. Once we hold a team to 35%, we can beat anybody.’”
Southern Miss will return to action on Dec. 28 to take on Loyola at the Reed Green Coliseum. The game will feature a father-son matchup, as Ladner faces against his son, Luke, who is a sophomore guard for Loyola.