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Southern Miss’ Resurgence on Display in Exhibition Game loss to Mississippi State

Southern+Miss+Resurgence+on+Display+in+Exhibition+Game+loss+to+Mississippi+State
Sean Smith

Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard buried a three-pointer with just over 90 seconds to go, which lifted the Bulldogs just past Southern Miss 60-54. 

The game marked the first time since 1995 that Mississippi State played in Hattiesburg in basketball, and it did not disappoint. Thousands of fans from across the state poured into Reed Green Coliseum to watch a game that did not count on the scorecard, but in bragging rights, it did. 

The game was an exhibition to help tornado victims in the Mississippi Delta. 

All proceeds will go to the charity organization CitiIMPACT.

“Two schools, two universities in our state came together for a great cause,” Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. “I certainly would hope we could keep something like this going in the future.” 

Southern Miss basketball’s resurgence

Even though the game did not count, the game was considered one of the most hotly contested exhibition matches in the country, and it did not disappoint. 

“I don’t think you could get a better preparation for your season,” Ladner said. 

Southern Miss faced a major test given that Mississippi State made an NCAA tournament appearance last season, losing in the first four of last season. 

However, the Golden Eagles fought valiantly and almost came away with what would have been an upset. Southern Miss showcased that they have the ability and are more than capable of being a threat to win the Sun Belt again in the regular season and potentially eyeing a shot at the big dance, taking a tournament team from last year down to the final minute. 

If today showed anything, it showed one word when people think of Southern Miss basketball now: Resurgence. 

Two or three years ago, you could count how many fans showed up to a regular season game, let alone an exhibition match. Now, in front of three to four thousand fans, USM is taking SEC basketball teams down to the final minute without arguably their two best players, Andre Curbelo and Neftali Alverez. 

The game today contradicts what all feared might be true. 

Last year was not a fluke but a resurgence in the Southern Miss basketball program. 

“Our goal is to not go to the NIT,” Ladner said. “We were happy with last season. We set all kinds of milestones and records and so forth, but we didn’t finish at the end.” 

Poor shooting highlighted the loss.

Mississippi State is known to have one of the better defenses in the SEC, and it was on full display on Sunday. The Bulldogs limited Southern Miss to just 30% FG percentage from the floor, and USM’s best player on the floor, Austin Crowley, could only get a little to fall. 

Crowley, the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year, just had 11 points on only two made field goals on 17 attempts. 

Even worse for Southern Miss, no player had more than 15 points, and they shot 8-24 from three-point range. 

“They are lean and have athleticism,” Ladner said. “Defensively, they did a really good job of taking us out of some actions.”

“They are very difficult to score on,” Ladner added. 

Defense and responses on offense kept USM in the game.

Even with the poor shooting, Southern Miss’s defense held firm. They did not allow Mississippi State to go on any big runs of their own, never letting them lead by more than ten points. 

It seemed as if every time Mississippi State would start to pull away, USM would answer and stay in the game. 

Most notably, it happened early in the first and late in the second half. 

In the first half, the Bulldogs jumped on top 19-10, but back-to-back three-pointers from Victor Hart and Austin Crowley put USM right back in the game. In the second half, Mississippi State went on a 10-0 run, up 52-42. 

However, USM responded and cut the lead to 52-49. 

That is the maturity and response you want to see from your team in the regular season. 

“We don’t back down,” said Hart. “There are a lot of ups and downs in a game. That’s what thing that I love about guys today is that we didn’t back down.”

Ladner thought they had the “firepower” to win the game, but there were just a few plays that did not go their way. 

Overall, it was a terrific game that could have gone either way. It is a feat that no one would have even thought possible two years ago, but with Ladner’s resurgence of Southern Miss basketball, anything is possible. 

Maybe even a shot at the big dance.

Southern Miss opens the regular season on Nov. 6 against William Carey at 7 p.m. 

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