by Hunter Dawkins
In an awkward style setup by Conference USA because of the global pandemic (COVID-19) on the basketball court, conference teams are matching up for Friday and Saturday games in the same location.
Fortunately for the Southern Miss (USM) Golden Eagles, they got their first two game sweep (7-6, 3-3) over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-7, 1-3) after their Saturday tight victory following a 30 point blowout on Friday.
“We played a very determined opponent, and you have to give Middle Tennessee and Coach McDevitt a lot of credit,” said USM Head Coach and former Pass Christian resident Jay Ladner said. “They are just like us with a lot of new faces on their team, and they’re an athletic bunch. I was proud of us to win without having our A-game, which we had last night.”
GAME 1: Southern Miss 84 Middle Tennessee 54
Friday night, USM went on a 12-2 run over the final four minutes to lead 38-22 at the break, its largest of the season.
A 29-10 run midway through the second half moved the lead to 82-46 with 2:59 remaining. The Blue Raiders shot just 29 percent in each half, while the Golden Eagles were 50 percent in both.
The 30-point margin was Southern Miss’ largest of the Ladner era and most since the 2018-19 home finale against UTSA (81-48).
Additionally, the Golden Eagles shot 47.8 percent from deep (11-for-23), their highest clip of the season. The 11 makes were the second-most of the season (15 against South Alabama), while the 23 attempts came after the team had just 39 in the first four C-USA games.
Southern Miss’ five turnovers were a season-low (previously 11).
GAME 2: Southern Miss 64 Middle Tennessee 59
Tae Hardy and Tyler Stevenson each produced 18 points to go with clutch plays down the stretch as Southern Miss defeated Middle Tennessee 64-59 on Saturday evening.
Hardy’s swipe of a Blue Raider pass and subsequent layup gave Southern Miss a 53-48 lead at 4:46, its largest since 16:50. He also broke a tie with 2:56 left on a short jumper. Stevenson’s heroics came at 1:46, when he delivered an emphatic put-back slam to push it back to a 57-53 advantage.
After the Blue Raiders went 1-for-2 at the line, Hardy sank a pair of free-throws to make it 59-54 with 1:04 left. Jaron Pierre Jr. also went 4-for-4 over the remaining time to keep Middle Tennessee away.
The Blue Raiders trailed 28-24 at the half, took their first lead since the opening minute at the 15:01 mark of the second half. The Golden Eagles forced 16 turnovers to offset their 20.
Fifteen of Jay Ladner’s 16 wins at USM have come when leading or tied at the half. The Golden Eagles are 7-1 this year when up at the break.