GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles and the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans will square off at Multi-purpose Sports Complex on Saturday night in the championship bout of the BVI Tropical Shootout.
USM successfully bounced back from a Wednesday loss at Western Kentucky (68-65) in the opening round on Friday of this event by claiming an 88-74 win over Coppin State. The Golden Eagles are off to a strong start to the season at 10-2, which includes a 2-0 mark on neutral floors.
UALR hasn't had as much success this season as its adversary, as it has won just four of its first 10 games. The Trojans were able to successfully halt a two-game losing streak in Friday night's opening road by outlasting Jacksonville State, 75-70, to advance to the championship game.
USM has defeated UALR in all four previous meetings, with the last matchup coming during the 2002-03 campaign.
The Golden Eagles made easy work of Coppin State in the opening round by shooting a lofty 59.3 percent from the field while sporting strong advantages in both the rebounding (37-27) and turnover (15-11) battles. Their victory could have been even larger had they not posted a dreadful 12-of-30 performance from the free-throw line. Daveon Boardingham led the way by connecting on all six of his field goal attempts off the bench for 14 points. Jerrold Brooks added 13 points and six assists, Neil Watson registered 11 points and eight assists, and Michael Craig rounded out the balanced effort with 12 points and seven rebounds.
It's no surprise that USM has gotten off to such a strong start this season when analyzing its numbers, as it outshoots its opponents from the field, 47.8 percent to 42.4 percent, for a +10.1 scoring margin while also living in the green in terms of rebounding (+4.5) and turnovers (+3.9). Although no one scores more than Watson's 11.3 points per game, the team has 10 players who net at least 3.2 points per game. Boardingham (10.9 ppg) shoots field goals at greater than 60 percent efficiency, while Aaron Brown (10.0 ppg), Craig (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Brooks (9.5 ppg) are also regular contributors.
Although UALR won its opening round matchup by a slim five-point margin, it never trailed in the game, and after Jacksonville State tied the contest with under six minutes to play, it quickly ended the threat with a Leroy Isler 3- pointer a minute later. It shot 54.2 percent from the field on the night, which included an outstanding 8-of-12 showing from beyond the arc. Three of those long range buckets came from Ben Dillard, who poured in 18 points off the bench. Josh Hagins netted 16 points, Will Neighbour tallied a double- double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, Isler added 11 points and James White put up nine points and 12 boards.
The Trojans have a modest scoring attack this season, as they post 72.7 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting, but unfortunately their lackluster scoring defense (77.0) has found them on the losing end of things more often than not. Neighbour has established himself as one of the Sun Belt's best forwards, tallying 17.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on great percentages from the field (.533), 3-point range (.444) and the foul line (.787). Hagins (12.6 ppg) is the only other player to average in double figures and is the team's top threat from beyond the arc (20-of-46).
USM appeared to be the strongest team in this event coming in and it proved why in its convincing opening-round effort. UALR will have a chance if it can get another well-rounded scoring performance, but its porous defense will be no match for the Golden Eagles' playmakers.
Game Date and Time