by Hunter Dawkins & Calvin Ishee

Coming off the first Division I opponent victory for the year last Saturday, the Southern Miss (USM) Golden Eagles Men’s Basketball couldn’t overcome the opponent record of attempted three-point baskets (42) and fell short to the North Florida Ospreys 72-69.  Despite a record game from USM’s forward Tyler Stevenson (27 points), the Ospreys beat the Golden Eagles for the second time this season.

“It’s difficult to find silver linings in what you’re doing,” said Southern Miss Head Basketball Coach and former Pass Christian resident Jay Ladner.  “There is some hurt in that locker room, but it was a loss to a very, well-coached team.”

Ladner, a 20-year high school prep coach in Hancock County at St. Stanislaus, is entering his first season with Southern Miss.  Even though Coach Ladner coached at a prep level for 21 years, he has spent seven coaching at the college level.

Starting at the Jones County Junior College in 2012, Coach Ladner led the Bobcats to their first ever NJCAA National Championship, followed by a hiring in the 2014 season of Southeastern Louisiana University.  Finishing in the top three of the Southland Conference, Ladner was hired to fill the vacancy left at Southern Miss in 2019.

A decorated alum and member of the 2017 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) team of the Golden Eagles, Ladner brings plenty on his resume from being the son of a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Hancock County legend J. Larry Ladner.

Hosting the game at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, USM (3-8) fell behind early as it has for most of the year with North Florida going on a 16-4 run.  The Golden Eagles began installing the press defense, which cut the lead by the Ospreys to 32-29 before the half.

North Florida took the second half lead for good with back-to-back three-pointers for a 61-57 lead with 4:53 left. The lead remained at seven with 3:15 remaining and six at 1:06, the latter coming off a triple to break the one-possession game.  Southern Miss Guard Gabe Watson connected on a three-pointer from the perimeter in the final seconds, but even when North Florida missed a free throw on the other end, time ran out quickly.

“We have to keep things in perspective that we had a chance,” said Ladner after coming close to the last possession for the fourth time this year.  “Let’s make no mistake that we are not looking at this as a rebuilding process and we want to win right now.”

The Golden Eagles won the turnover battle for the third-straight game, and had more foul shots than its opponent for the third time.  It was also the third-straight contest the squad had more points in the second half from the first.

Monday night, USM nearly upset the #24-nationally ranked Texas Tech Raiders 71-65.  Next game is Saturday as the Golden Eagles host Tougaloo College at 2pm in the Reed Green Coliseum.