Photo by David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines
After defeating the Florida International Panthers (14-18, 8-11) on Wednesday by a score of 69-68, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (15-17, 8-11) will advance to play Middle Tennessee (24-6, 16-2) in the Conference USA quarterfinals tonight at 6 p.m.
The Golden Eagles survived a 30-point effort from FIU’s All-Conference Third Team and All-Defensive Team selection Brian Beard Jr. en route to the thrilling one point victory.
Junior guard Cortez Edwards stole the show for Southern Miss, tying a career-high with a 29-point outburst. He also grabbed seven rebounds and recorded six assists.
Regular season meetings
The Blue Raiders dominated the first meeting between these two teams when they met on Jan. 13 in Murfreesboro. Despite All-American forward Nick King scoring only six points, MTSU took care of Southern Miss and won by a score of 69-49.
Senior Brandon Walters picked up the slack by scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds, while fellow senior Giddy Potts recorded a solid game with 14 points and seven boards. For Southern Miss, it was one of their lowest scoring games of the season. Tyree Griffin was the only vessel of offensive production, as he scored 21 points in a losing effort.
In Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles gave the Blue Raiders a more valiant effort. They were still unable to get over the hump, however, as MTSU escaped Mississippi with a 72-62 victory.
King was more of a factor in the second meeting, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Potts netted 13 points, and recorded six rebounds and four assists.
The game took a turn when starting guard Griffin went down with an injury down the stretch and according to Southern Miss Head Coach Doc Sadler, that was when their offense stalled out.
“We got to finish the game,” Sadler said. “We were two points down with a little over four minutes to go at our place. (Griffin) goes down, gets hurt and we shoot 0-12 down the stretch and don’t win the ballgame.”
Southern Miss needs rebounding help
If USM wants any type of chance to pull off the colossal upset, one thing is for certain: they need to keep up the pressure on the boards. With Southern Miss playing many small lineups, they rely on smaller players to pick up the rebounding slack.
Small forward Dominic Magee grabbed 14 rebounds against FIU, while the two biggest players on the team only recorded a total of five rebounds total.
In both games between these two teams in the regular season, MTSU won the rebounding battle by an average of 15.5 rebounds. The obvious advantage that the Blue Raiders is their size and ability to control the defensive boards. If Southern Miss wants a chance to win, forwards Tim Rowe and Eddie Davis will need to help out Magee on the boards against the likes of King, Walters and Karl Gamble.
Golden Eagles have nothing to lose
Being the number one seed in the conference tournament, MTSU is faced with more pressure compared to a team that is a heavy an underdog.
Sadler understands that his team has nothing to lose and even though they aren’t the popular pick to win the game, there is no pressure on them to perform.
“The pressure is on (Middle Tennessee),” Sadler said. “Nobody here thinks we have a chance … that’s okay. We’ve got to do our part.”
The quarterfinal game will be played tonight at 6 p.m. and can be seen live on Stadium.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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