Southern Miss collapses late against South Alabama, knocked out of Sun Belt tournament.

PENSACOLA, Fla – No. 1 seed Southern Miss collapsed late against the eighth seed South Alabama as the Jaguars went on a 20-2 run late to take the victory 78-61. After what happened in Mobile a couple of weeks ago, where the jaguars beat Southern Miss by 30 plus, the Golden Eagles again lost by double digits. The Golden Eagles’ hope of an NCAA tournament bid is all but gone.

“South Alabama made the plays and they needed to in the second half. Our guys are hurt crushed to be honest with you right now because our goal was to get to the NCAA tournament.” Southern Miss head coach Jay Ladner said after the game.

Southern Miss got about as tough of a draw to start the Sun Belt tournament as you could ask for having to play South Alabama. South Alabama went 5-1 to end the season, beating each team soundly, including the 31-point drubbing of Southern Miss in Mobile, as previously mentioned.

“I told their coach before the game; I said that is one heck of a reward for being the number one seed and having to play you guys.” Ladner said.

The Golden Eagles had a great game plan coming into the game to try and avoid getting blown out again. The defense they were giving the Jaguars to open the game was astounding. In every shot, South Alabama took, a Golden Eagle had a hand in the shooter’s face.

“We had a different defensive game plan. And I thought that it worked really well for a long time. But again, there was a stretch.” Ladner said. “There is a couple of key possessions that maybe didn’t go our way for whatever reason I’ll just be more diplomatic. And I thought it kept stopping our momentum.”

Every time Southern Miss seemed to be getting something going, it was either a foul, a timeout, or something that would slow any momentum the Golden Eagles could muster. The largest lead of the day for Southern Miss was just six points. They could only get something going sometimes.

At halftime, Southern Miss was leading 27-26. They closed the half on almost a three-minute scoring drought, allowing South Alabama to close the gap right before the break (Southern Miss led by 6 with just over a minute remaining.)

Southern Mis led in almost every stat, except for turnovers and how many points the Jaguars were generating off turnovers. At the end of the game, Southern Miss had 16 turnovers, and the Jaguars capitalized off those turnovers with 25 points from those mistakes.

“The big stat that sticks out to me was points off turnovers. I thought we turn the ball over too much. And uncharacteristically turned it over too much. And of course, at the start of the second half I think we turned it over three the first four possessions. We didn’t get a shot up. Of course, we were up at the half, but they had kind of closed the gap. I think we’re up 27-21.” Ladner said.

The game plan for Southern Miss had to slow down South Alabama guard Owen White. White scored 29 points when Southern Miss went down to Mobile a couple of weeks ago and 19 when the jaguars came to Hattiesburg.

That was the plan to start the game, and it was working, as Ladner said; however, that was not the case in the second half. White finished with 23 points, with 12 coming in the second half.

“I remember when we played them at home, I think they gave me 13 threes and they were all pretty open looks. So, I knew coming if they had a similar strategy, I would probably get a lot of load, but the mental preparation is the same. It needs to be the same for every game.” White said.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, turnovers plagued Southern Miss, and the difference there was the difference in the score.

Ladner did allude to South Alabama getting a day off before playing Southern Miss. South Alabama won their first game on Thursday and got a day of rest to play Southern Miss. For USM, however, the Golden Eagles’ first shooting on this court was an hour before the game.

“I don’t like it. I thought they got I think they got an advantage.” Ladner said.

Denijay Harris and Felipe Hasse led the team in scoring, both with 18. Harris had a double-double.

The good news for Southern Miss is that the story does not end here. They will get a bid from the NIT and await the selection process on Sunday, March 12.

“I can’t be more proud of the group of guys. I’m disappointed and I hurt with them. Personally, they hurt, because they’ve worked so hard to change the direction of our program. I’m forever indebted to them.” Ladner said.