No hot dogging: Southern Miss basketball drawing fans, attention with success

Published 1:28 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

Jay Ladner doesn’t have anything against promotional nights at Southern Miss’ men’s basketball games. He just dreams of a day when they’re not needed.

“You can have all the hot dog nights and fraternity nights, but if you put a good product on the floor you don’t have to have any of those nights. I doubt Kentucky has a dollar hot dog night,” Ladner said.

Now in his fourth season as his alma mater’s head coach, Ladner and the Golden Eagles are starting to field the kind of team that will make those cheap hot dogs a bonus instead of a feature.

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Southern Miss (18-4, 7-2 Sun Belt Conference) won its fourth game in a row by beating Arkansas State 73-57 on Thursday. The victory moved the Golden Eagles into a tie for first place in the Sun Belt. The success has injected a shot of life into a program that had one postseason appearance and one winning record in the past eight seasons.

“That’s exciting that we’re in the fourth week of January and we’re still playing important games. That’s one of our goals, is playing meaningful games in February and we’re going to be doing that,” Ladner said in Thursday’s postgame press conference.

Southern Miss finished 20-13 in the 2018-19 season and earned a bid to the third-tier College Basketball Invitational. It won a total of 24 games the next three seasons, but has enjoyed a huge turnaround this year.

The Golden Eagles won their first nine games and haven’t stopped rolling since. Three players — Austin Crowley (17.3 points per game), Felipe Haase (14.4) and DeAndre Pinckney (14.2) — rank among the top 10 scorers in the Sun Belt.
Crowley also leads the conference in steals (2.23 per game), and Southern Miss is first in team scoring defense allowing 63.6 points per game.

DeAndre Pinckney scored 18 points, Haase added 13 and Crowley 12 in Thursday’s win over Arkansas State. Southern Miss went on a 12-2 run early in the second half to build a double-digit lead, and led by as many as 19 points coming down the stretch.

Three of the four victories in the current winning streak have been by double digits.

Southern Miss’ last NCAA Tournament appearance came in the 2011-12 season. Ladner said his players are well aware of the program’s lackluster recent history, and are driven by a desire change it.

“It’s just that internal championship drive. You’ve got a lot of guys in there that want to do something. They talk about making history,” Ladner said. “They’re very aware of where we’ve been over the last few years. They want to be the group that’s looked at when people look back like the NCAA Tournament teams, and Coach Turk’s ‘81 team that went to the NIT, those teams in the early 90s. They want to be the team that turned it around.”

As the season progresses, there are other signs besides the growing number of victories that the Golden Eagles are accomplishing that goal.

They are starting to generate an actual homecourt advantage, for example. Southern Miss is 11-0 at Reed Green Coliseum this season, and the success has brought fans back through the doors. More than 4,000 attended each of the first three games of the current four-game homestand that ends Saturday against Texas State (2 p.m., ESPN+).

Southern Miss drew 4,000 fans once in the past three seasons. They’re back now, and it’s not for the dollar hot dogs.

“It’s rewarding to see that spirit come back to Reed Green, and the student section and the people coming back, and the overall excitement,” Ladner said. “Over the last three to four weeks I’ve seen a lot of smiling faces in Reed Green and people having fun.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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