History in Hattiesburg. For the third time in Southern Miss’ Division I era, the Golden Eagles (25-6, 14-4 SBC) have won a regular season conference championship in men’s basketball.
With a 79-69 win at Texas State (13-18, 6-12 SBC) on Friday night, February 24, 2023, Southern Miss (USM) was crowned Sun Belt Regular Season Champions.
The Golden Eagles join the 1990-91 and 2000-01 teams as regular season champions. Friday’s win also gave USM the most regular season wins in the Division I era with 25. The most wins by any team are 27 from the 1952-53 team.
Felipe Haase delivered on the Golden Eagles’ big night as the graduate forward from Chile poured in 26 points and cashed in on four three-pointers. Southern Miss, though, wasn’t seeing rings all night long. Texas State jumped on the Golden Eagles early with the Black and Gold going nearly two minutes until they scored their first points.
Texas State never got ahead by more than five, but that was all the motivation Southern Miss would need. Neftali Alvarez and Haase each hit a three to give the Golden Eagles a short-lived lead, but it wasn’t until Austin Crowley threw down a dunk that Southern Miss took the lead for good.
For Crowley to get that dunk with 9:02 left in the first half, Mo Arnold from Picayune picked a Bobcat pocket and allowed Alvarez to give a dime to Crowley for the flush. That gave Southern Miss a 21-20 lead and sparked a 10-0 run.
Denijay Harris, who picked up his second-career double-double, gave the Golden Eagles an 11-point lead after converting back-to-back layups. The lead then hit 12 after a Crowley triple with a minute left on the clock. Texas State answered, but Alvarez punched back with a nifty move under the basket to make it 41-29 at the break.
Alvarez led all first-half players with 13 points and helped Southern Miss to a 53.3 percent shooting clip. Crowley added 11 points and Haase had a quiet seven. Luckily for Southern Miss, it didn’t take long for him to be heard from in the second half.
With Texas State cutting the Golden Eagle advantage to six minutes prior, Haase delivered a huge three-pointer to push it back to an 11-point lead. He then hit back-to-back three-pointers 61-43 with just over 10 minutes to go.
That was the largest lead Southern Miss would have all day and the Bobcats never got back within single digits over the final 10 minutes. With time winding down, head coach Jay Ladner, former St. Stanislaus Catholic coach and Pass Christian resident gave his starting five a proper ovation and emptied his bench.
As the seconds ticked down, the Golden Eagles closed in on history. A season after winning seven total games, Ladner brought his team to the top. Though the story isn’t done, the Golden Eagles are getting their rings at last.
Southern Miss’ 25 wins are the most in a regular season and its 14 conference wins are tied for the most in a single season in program history. With the Southern Miss women’s basketball team being crowned co-champions, it’s the first time in school history both teams have won a regular season title.
Southern Miss will play in the 2023 Hercules Tires Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Championship on Saturday, March 4 at 11:30 a.m. Southern Miss will play the winner of South Alabama and App State. All games will be played at the Pensacola Bay Center in Pensacola, Fla.