It took Southern Miss 32 games last season to earn seven wins, and in just one year, the Golden Eagles have matched that win total after dominating Mobile 103-52 to stay undefeated.
“It’s been fun so far, but I’m anxious to see where we go,” Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. “It does feel good to (tie last year’s win total), but I’m hungry for more too. We have to do better than seven wins.
“We have a long way to go make up for the awful feeling in my stomach and mouth from all those losses in the last couple of years. We have a lot of improvement to do. Sometimes winning can cover up the stink. We have a lot of room to work on (with defense) fundamentally. I think we missed opportunities. I know we did it in Cancun with throwing the ball away and mishandling the ball. Those are things that we have to keep working on. We have a tough stretch the rest of the way. We are going to take them one game at a time. I know that’s a coaching cliché, but the bottom line is that’s the only way we can do it.”
The Golden Eagles’ 7-0 start is the fourth in program history, which does not include the vacated seasons.
Southern Miss made quick work of Mobile (3-4) as the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 15-point lead by the 12-minute mark of the first half.
Southern Miss’ offense seemed to click on all cylinders as the Golden Eagles shot 59% in both halves. Leading USM was a 24-point performance from Austin Crowley, along with a double-double from Felipe Haase, who posted 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Crowley scored 15 of his points in the second and came up with three slam dunks as well as nailing three 3-pointers in the game.
“I had a lot of open looks,” said Crowley on his second-half performance. “I think I made the wrong play a couple of times in the first half where I should have just kicked it. I think really my teammates just found me in open spots in the second half.
“I’ve been getting a lot of dunks lately, and all of them have been off assists too. I have to give that credit to my teammates. I get a steal every now and then and get a dunk, but most come from assists.”
Defensively, which has been the biggest difference in Southern Miss’ season, the Golden Eagles scored 38 points off 24 turnovers and held Mobile to shooting just 36%.
“We have always said that we want to change and be the new Southern Miss,” Crowley said. “It was a rough season for them last year, and I’m glad we were able to tie their wins in the first seven games. I think the energy in the locker room has given us that extra push to be better than last year. I don’t see anything stopping us.
“A lot of people forgot about Southern Miss, and they don’t think we’re a basketball school. We’re here to change that.”
Notably, DeAndre Pinckney put up 12 points, while Donovan Ivory also scored 10 points.
According to the Kenpom.com basketball ratings, the Golden Eagles have the largest ranking improvement in the country, with USM beginning the season at 324 and improving to 197.
The Golden Eagles have notched respectable wins against Liberty (96) and Vanderbilt (77), who are both inside the top 100 of the Kenpom ratings, as well as a win over Winthrop (210), which has played for the Big South championship the last three years.
In the next five games, Southern Miss has a favorable upcoming stretch to extend that unbeaten mark as their next four opponents post a combined record of 13-14, all of which have Kepom ratings below 200, with only one having a winning record. Those opponents include Montana (3-4), Lamar (3-4), who USM will play twice and McNeese State (2-4). The lone team with a winning record is Nonwestern State (5-2), which holds a 64-63 win over No. 15 TCU earlier in the season.
Nefatli Alverez has missed playing time since Nov. 15 after leaving early against Loyola due to a foot injury.
“Nefta is week to week,” Ladner said. “I think he is ahead of schedule. He has been out of his boot. He has been shooting. Doctors won’t let him pass and cut, but he can catch, shoot and ball handle. He’s already doing that. He said each day that, he is starting to feel better. We have our fingers crossed.”
Southern Miss was also without Deinjay Harris, who cracked his ribs against Purdue Fort Wayne.
“Denijay, in the Purdue Fort Wayne game, had a kid come up from under him, and he landed hard,” Ladner said. “It was one of the hardest falls that I have seen, and he cracked his ribs. He is going to see a local specialist (on Monday).
“Based on what our trainers have told me, that type of injury has to do with pain tolerance. The more he can handle, the quicker he can play.”
Southern Miss hosts Montana on Tuesday night, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.
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