Southern Miss Men’s Basketball braces for battle between top 2 teams in the Sun Belt

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)(Mark Humphrey | AP)
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 11:36 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Southern Miss Men’s Basketball is soaring right now, currently boasting a 7-game win streak and sharing the top spot in Sun Belt Conference play with a 10-2 conference record.

There’s only one team hotter in the Sun Belt, and the Golden Eagles will put their winning streak and home undefeated record on the line this week against the team who is currently on a 10-game win streak, third in the country in longest active win streaks.

Thursday, the biggest game in head coach Jay Ladner’s 4-year tenure, and arguably the biggest game since the 2012-2013 season against Memphis, will take place inside Reed Green Coliseum versus a long-time rival, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, in a battle for sole possession of the No. 1 position in conference standings.

“We are glad to be home. As far as the standings go, [it’s] a big game,” Coach Ladner said in his opening statement. “We’re playing a team who is really, really good and well-coached. Coach Bob [Marlin] has done a great job down in Lafayette, [Lousiana] at an old-time rival of Southern Miss... We have an opportunity to fight for at least a temporary first-place [standing], but have six more tough games the way we see it. We’ll have a great challenge in front of us this week.”

In the reverse game at Lafayette on January 5, The Golden Eagles struggled in a 61-75 without a key contributor, point guard Neftali Alvarez, who was unavailable for the game due to a foot injury sustained early in the season, as well as a fully fit starting forward, Denijay Harris - who has emerged as an unlikely offensive weapon late this season.

“[Avarez] has made a great impact since he’s come back,” Coach Ladner said. “He’s given us a boost [defensively]. Y’all have seen the pressure he can bring defensively. He’s quick and explosive. [Louisiana] has some outstanding athletes. [Themus] Fulks is a really quick point guard and it’s going to help us to have Nef out there and hopefully stop some of his penetration. [Kentrell] Garnett had a great game against us last time, 6-8 shooting the basketball. And, Greg Williams Jr. is one of the best athletes in the league.”

“If you look back, Denijay Harris was just coming back out with his injury and wasn’t full strength. It remains to be seen, but I’m glad [Alvarez] is back and Denijay is back at full strength,” Coach Ladner continued.

Alvarez suffered a foot injury against Loyola New Orleans on November 14 in just the Golden Eagles’ third game of the season.

Since his return, Alzarez has provided defensive pressure from the guard position for Southern Miss in his first six games back amid the squad’s current 7-game win streak. Alvarez has averaged almost two steals a game, forcing opposition turnovers, and has contributed to the team allowing just 63.7 points per game, which ranks 37th in the country.

Luckily for the Golden Eagles, Southern Miss is undefeated against Louisiana on Thursdays in the 2022-2023 sports season, with football knocking off the Ragin’ Cajuns 39-24 at “The Rock” in Hattiesburg on October 27 with the home crowd wearing all black.

Thursday night, a sell-out crowd wearing all white, is expected as the Golden Eagles host the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at Reed Green Coliseum. The game will be aired on ESPN Plus.

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.