Southern Miss Forward DeAndre Pinckney shoots a three point basket during the first half of an NCAA basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022 in Hattiesburg, Miss. (Aimee Cronan/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher/Owner –

From a friendship that has lasted for over 20 years, Andy Kennedy’s University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Blazers (26-9) dominated Jay Ladner’s Southern Miss (USM) Golden Eagles (25-8) in the second half to win 88-60 in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama Tuesday night, March 14, 2023.

Kennedy and Ladner have been friends since the UAB’s coaching tenure at Ole Miss for 12 years from 2006-18 and Ladner coached high school for St. Stanislaus on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Before Southern Miss left Conference USA last year, the two faced off numerous times each year.

During the start of the game, the first half was close, as Southern Miss had the first lead of the game when Forward Denijay Harris dunked with 14:31 in the first half.  USM kept this lead for the next 8 minutes forcing multiple UAB turnovers and blocking a few shots.

Once UAB took back the lead with 6:22 left as Guard KJ Buffen made a jumper, the score was 23-22 in favor of the Blazers who held it firm at the half 41-38.

USM wasn’t done yet as Forward DeAndre Pinckney made a three-point basket to tie the game at 41 during the second half with 19:09 left followed by Chilean graduate transfer Felipe Haase knocking down another triple with 18:44 for a 44-41 lead.

Unfortunately for Southern Miss, once Buffen made a layup on an assist from UAB teammate Eric Gaines, the Golden Eagles lost the lead with 16:45 left in the game.

After UAB’s timeout at the 14:02 mark and a 51-49 lead, the Blazers went on a 22-7 run until Ladner tossed his jacket to the floor about officials’ lack of foul calls and was delivered a technical.  A 15-4 UAB run ended the game in Birmingham.

Southern Miss was led by DeAndre Pinckney with 15 points, followed by Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Austin Crowley with 13.  Sharpshooter Nico Aguirre knocked down 13 points off the bench to round out the double-digit scorers for the year.

The Blazers outrebounded the Golden Eagles 48-32 and Southern Miss had 24 total turnovers.

Before the game, Southern Miss’ Austin Crowley, Felipe Haase and DeAndre Pinckney picked up NABC All-District 23 honors, per a release from the National Association of Basketball Coaches on Tuesday morning. Head coach Jay Ladner was named the NABC District 23 Coach of the Year.

Ladner’s honor comes after he was named the Joe Gottfried Sun Belt Coach of the Year and a Hugh Durham Award finalist after producing one of the best turnaround stories in NCAA Division I basketball history. Ladner’s Golden Eagles have racked up 25 wins after finishing with seven a season ago.

The 18-win swing is two shy of tying the record for the best turnaround in NCAA history that Iowa State set during the 2021-22 season. Southern Miss has also set numerous records under Ladner’s tutelage this season.

The Golden Eagles’ 25 wins are tied for the most in Southern Miss’ Division I era and four shy of tying the most wins in program history. Ladner’s team also went 15-0 at Reed Green Coliseum to tie the 2011-12 team for the best home winning percentage in program history.

The Golden Eagles finished Sun Belt play with 14 wins to tie the 1949-50 team for the most conference wins in a single season. Ladner is the first Southern Miss coach to earn NABC District Coach of the Year honors since Donnie Tyndall in 2013 — Larry Eustachy also grabbed the honor in 2012.