GAME NOTES: The red-hot Southern Miss Golden Eagles look to keep soaring as they visit UCF Arena for a Conference USA bout against the UCF Knights.
These schools have squared off just 11 times before in history. USM holds a 7-4 all-time series lead after winning two straight and five of the last six meetings.
The Golden Eagles hung on for a 79-75 win at UAB on Saturday to notch their 10th victory in a row and 12th decision in their last 13 games. Donnie Tyndall's squad now owns an 18-4 overall record including a perfect 7-0 mark against C-USA foes that ties it atop the league standings with the Memphis Tigers, who are visiting Hattiesburg on Saturday. Dwayne Davis is netting 13.0 points per game to lead a very balanced attack that features six players with scoring averages of at least 7.7 ppg.
The depth keeps fresh bodies on the floor consistently which has allowed the Golden Eagles to assert much more effort on the defensive end to limit their foes to 58.4 ppg, which is the lowest mark in the C-USA. USM is not one- dimensional, however, as it also ranks third in the conference in scoring offense at 74.3 ppg.
USM was in control of the bout at UAB early on and it took an eight-point lead into the intermission. The Blazers battled back to make it a two-point game as the contest neared its conclusion, but Jerrold Brooks knocked down a 3-pointer and Michael Craig put in a layup to end the threat. Neil Watson went 7-of-7 from the field, including a 6-of-6 mark from beyond the arc, to tally 24 points. Craig registered a double-double of 16 points and 10 boards, while Brooks and Davis scored 16 and 10 points, respectively.
As a team, USM went 30-of-47 from the field (63.8 percent) and 10-of-17 from 3-point range (58.8 percent) to overcome 19 turnovers. The high conversion rate is nothing new as the Golden Eagles rank eighth nationally in field-goal percentage (.492).
UCF had its four-game winning streak snapped over the weekend when it dropped a 75-71 decision to Marshall at the Cam Henderson Center. Donnie Jones, who coached the Thundering Herd prior to arriving in Orlando, watched his squad fall to 15-6 overall and 5-2 in league action despite a strong, 24-point and nine-rebound showing from superstar senior forward Keith Clanton.
Clanton is leading the team and is fourth in the Conference USA with 16.6 points per game. His 9.3 rebounding average is the third best in the league. Junior guard Isaiah Sykes also adds noticeable scoring punch with 15.3 points per game. UCF is the middle of the road in the C-USA in both scoring offense (71.5) and scoring defense (64.7). It has managed to knock off some notable programs in South Florida, Belmont, and UAB this season despite having the second worst turnover margin (-2.1) in the C-USA.
The Knights held a one-point lead over the Herd at halftime on Saturday, but Marshall took control by shooting 59.1 percent from the field after the break. In addition to Clanton's outstanding performance, Calvin Newell added 19 points and Sykes contributed 10 while both players managed to swipe three steals each. Sykes had trouble finding his touch for the second straight contest and he is just 12-of-36 (33.3 percent) from the field and 1-of-7 from long distance over his last two games.
While USM is a very solid team, UCF has defeated units just as talented as the Golden Eagles at home this season. The Knights are ineligible for postseason play this year due to sanctions handed down by the NCAA after recruiting violations. The banishment from the postseason makes a chance to ruin the Golden Eagles' perfect C-USA record and winning streak that much more attractive to the Knights, but they will need to figure out a way to slow down the very deep USM offensive attack to have a chance.
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