Southern Miss beats Louisiana, moves into first place in the Sun Belt

Published 10:04 am Friday, February 10, 2023

HATTIESBURG — A big game. A big crowd. A massive win and moment.

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd at Reed Green Coliseum, Southern Miss shot 61.5 percent in the second half and pulled away from Louisiana-Lafayette to win 82-71 on Thursday.

The victory gave Southern Miss (22-4, 11-2 SBC) sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference, one game ahead of Louisiana (20-5, 10-3) with five left in the regular season.

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“We had a preseason Hardwood Club/season ticket pep rally and there were 26 people there. Felipe Haase counted them, and he said, ‘Coach, let’s have that same event at the end of the season and I guarantee you we’ll have a heck of a lot more,” Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. “To go where we were at the start of the season, from just a few hundred people in the stands, to selling out, it’s a great spirit in there and our players are feeding off of that.”

Felipe Haase and Neftali Alvarez finished with 17 points apiece for Southern Miss, and Austin Crowley scored 13. Jordan Brown had 25 points and eight rebounds for Louisiana.

The announced crowd of 8,097 was the fifth-largest ever at Reed Green Coliseum, and Southern Miss’ first sellout since 2008.

“It was electrifying,” said DeAndre Pinckney, who led the Golden Eagles with 22 points and six rebounds. “It feels good to be out there and see a whole bunch of people that are there for you. I never thought I’d ever experience this in my life. I’m thankful for the opportunity, for sure.”

Southern Miss trailed 36-26 with a little over three minutes left in the first half, but cut it to 38-33 at halftime and then heated up in the second half. The Golden Eagles took the lead on a 3-pointer by Pinckney with 13:34 left in the second half and never gave it back.

Pinckney’s 3 was part of an 11-1 run that put Southern Miss ahead 55-49. Louisiana did not get back within one possession at any point in the last 11 minutes.

“We were all over the rim, and we usually make them. It was just a matter of settling down. I think our guys were keyed up from the crowd and wanting to do well,” Ladner said of USM’s slow start in the first half.

Southern Miss finished its scoring with a steal by Alvarez and a fast-break dunk by Pinckney with 33 seconds left, and then celebrated with its crowd after the final horn.

The Golden Eagles went 7-26 last season, and were picked to finish dead last in their first year in the Sun Belt. Their 22 wins are tied for the most since the 2011-12 season.

As the season is winding down, the Golden Eagles are in first place and enjoying one of the most memorable seasons in the program’s history.

“It’s just an incredible euphoria right now, and we don’t want it to end,” Ladner said.