GAME NOTES: With a trip to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals on the line, the third-seeded Southern Miss Golden Eagles will travel to Minneapolis to take on the top-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena.
The winner of this game will advance to the NIT's semifinal round, and will face either Louisiana Tech or Florida State on April 1 in New York City.
Southern Miss was booted from the Conference USA Tournament back on March 14 by Louisiana Tech, but could get some revenge on the Bulldogs if both squads advance to the Big Apple. The Golden Eagles took down Toledo in the first round of the NIT, and defeated Missouri, 71-63, to advance to the quarterfinal round.
Minnesota struggled all season long in conference play, and was ousted from the Big Ten Conference Tournament by Wisconsin. But the Gophers rebounded with wins over High Point in the first round of the NIT, and against the West Coast Conference's Saint Mary's Gaels, 63-55, on Sunday.
This will be the first time these two programs have met on the hardwood.
Southern Miss fell behind early to Missouri, as the Tigers grabbed a five- point lead not even a minute into the game. But that was quickly erased, and the Golden Eagles ended up taking a five-point lead of their own when the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half. With the advantage, the Eagles built their lead to as many as 11 points in the second half, and ended up cruising to the nine-point win. Neil Watson scored a team-high 18 points, and dished out seven assists for Southern Miss. Aaron Brown chipped in 16 points, and Michael Craig tallied a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards in the victory.
Craig enters the game against Minnesota leading the team in scoring with an 11.2 ppg average, adding a team-leading 7.6 rpg mark to his season resume. Watson is second in scoring for the Golden Eagles at 10.6 ppg, having dished out a team-best 139 assists. Daveon Boardingham checks in at third at 10.2 ppg, and Brown notches 10 ppg for Southern Miss. As a unit, the Eagles are scoring 72.1 ppg, and giving up just 62.8 ppg to opponents.
Minnesota looked very much in trouble as Saint Mary's jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the Gophers' last outing. Minnesota failed to score a point in the game's first 6:50, but came surging back and finally took a lead with 14:53 left in the second period. Joey King netted 18 points to pace the Golden Gophers in the contest, while DeAndre Mathieu chipped in 14 and Austin Hollins added 10. Minnesota shot an even 50 percent from the floor in the second frame to kick-start the comeback run.
Andre Hollins leads Minnesota in scoring at 13.8 ppg. Mathieu checks in behind Hollins in the scoring department at 12 ppg, adding a team-best 148 assists to his season stat line. Austin Hollins rounds out the double-digit scorers at 11.5 ppg. Elliott Eliason tops the team in rebounding at 6.8 rpg, and in blocked shots with 71. The Gophers net an average of 71.5 ppg, and allow just 67.8 ppg to opponents.
Southern Miss builds its game around a strong offensive attack, while Minnesota has found success on the defensive end of the floor. Statistically, the edge goes to Southern Miss, but going against a Big Ten program like Minnesota that dominated non-conference play early on, is a tall order, especially in Minneapolis.
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