By Al Jones/Sun-Herald (MCT)
A lot has changed since Memphis rallied to beat Southern Miss three weeks ago at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Tigers won the game on Charles Carmouche’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, claiming their 15th consecutive victory over the Golden Eagles.
In the 76-75 loss, Southern Miss blew a double-digit lead in the second half in a game largely dominated by the Golden Eagles until Carmouche’s shot.
Since then, the Golden Eagles are 4-1, and are now 18-5 overall. Southern Miss is in position to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1990-91.
Southern Miss, which has an RPI ranking of 46, is tied with UTEP atop the Conference USA standings at 7-3.
“We have gotten better,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. “We have put ourselves in a good position (to win regular season championship). Just think where we would be if we had beaten Memphis.
“But we can’t look back. We can only look forward to this game with Memphis.”
Memphis, with a No. 36 RPI, is a half-game back at 6-3 in C-USA play.
The second meeting happens today at the FedExForum in Memphis with tip off set for 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
“The bottom line is Memphis has been getting great players since I have been here,” Eustachy said. “They have been a thorn in our side, just like everybody else in our league. Now, they are better than they were when they beat us on our court. It’s going to be a challenge up there. No doubt.”
For R.L. Horton, a senior guard from Jackson, the game marks the final chance to beat Memphis in a regular-season game.
Horton, who averages 12 points a game, said the Golden Eagles are ready to play.
“We want this game,” Horton said. “It’s our motivation to win the game. It would be very important to win this game because we’re looking to win a championship. For me, I have never beaten Memphis and this is my last time to get a win. It would feel great to beat them.”
Eustachy, who hasn’t beaten Memphis in his seven years at Southern Miss, said the game plan will not change.
Southern Miss will look to put the ball in the hands of senior forward Gary Flowers (20.2 points) and gain a rebounding edge on the Tigers.
The Golden Eagles come in outrebounding opponents by an average of 39 rebounds to 31.”We are going to try to get our game going on their court,” Eustachy said. “We do have to play better than we did in the first game to beat them. I feel like both teams have gotten better and we are starting a six game (conference) run that will determine our fate in the conference. At this point in the season, I could not ask for anything better.
“I do know that Memphis is one of the top teams and so are we. If we are good enough to beat them, we will. I know we will try hard.”