By Al Jones/Sun-Herald (MCT)
HATTIESBURG – Southern Miss entered the basketball season looking to fill the void of seniors Gary Flowers and R.L. Horton.
With Flowers trying to make an NBA roster, the Golden Eagles have moved forward in a positive way.
The Golden Eagles (7-2) have their toughest home game of the year on Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum against Ole Miss (8-1) at 3:30 p.m.
Southern Miss has won three straight.
“I am a little surprised that we are 7-2,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. “I have liked this team since Day 1. The reason that I am a little surprised at 7-2 is this toughest non-conference schedule we have played since I have been here. We also had to blend the new guys in with the old guys. But we have a lot of room for improvement, which is a positive.”
The Golden Eagles feature four double-digit scorers and a potential rising star within Conference USA. LaShay Page, a 6-foot-2 guard starting for the first time, leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game followed by forward Maurice Bolden, a returning starter, at 12.8.
“I told LaShay that he is in the perfect position because of the opportunity he had,” Eustachy said. “He played behind Horton, who started every game in his four years here. That had to be tough on him. LaShay needs to play with the freedom that allows him to use his talent. I have to let him play with more freedom. He has proven himself and plays with a lot of confidence.”
Senior point guard Angelo Johnson chips in at 12.4 points; Neil Watson adds 10.7 points per outing. Also in the mix is forward Jonathan Mills at nine points and six rebounds.
“I went and watched Mills play and immediately knew he was a heck of a player,” Eustachy said. “I heard he was a high-major player, but he wasn’t big enough. I did not buy into that because size is overrated. He needed coaching and he is buying into how he needs to play. Once he gets tuned in, he will make some money one day. He has the strength and weight to compete. He is a tough kid.”
As a team, Southern Miss is outscoring opponents 73.4 to 63.4 and outrebounding opponents 37.1 to 30.1. The Golden Eagles also forced opponents into 16 turnovers per game and Bolden leads the team with 11 blocked shots.
The Golden Eagles also shoot .785 as a team from the free throw line with Page, Bolden, Johnson and Watson each shooting better than .714. Watson is shooting .929 from the free throw line (39-of-42).
“I really like this team,” Eustachy said. “This team gets along better on and off the court than any team I’ve been around. They do not care who scores the points.”
Eustachy could not comment on the eligibility of Darnell Dodson, a 6-7 transfer from Kentucky.
Dodson played on the Kentucky team that featured first-round pick John Wall and reached the Elite Eight two years ago while starting nine games. But a source within the athletic department said Dodson will be in uniform for the Ole Miss game.