The preseason consensus around Conference USA is that the would likely be decided between the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Both teams have started off the season strong and both have been featured in our Mid-Major Power 15.
Although Old Dominion has started off conference play at 3-0 and Charlotte, UTEP, and Tulsa have had 3-1 starts, Sunday's matinee in Hattiesburg was thought to be the marquee match up in Conference USA thus far. Louisiana Tech came into the game with a 3-0 mark, while Southern Miss came in 2-1 with a slip up against the aforementioned Tulsa.
Unfortunately, some excited about surrounding this game was tempered a bit with an injury to Louisiana Tech's leading scorer Raheem Appleby. Appleby is expected to be out for the next 6 to 8 weeks with an ankle injury.
While the game stayed relatively close in the first half, frustration boiled over with just about five minutes left when Bulldogs' head coach Michael White picked up a technical foul after Chris Anderson picked up his second personal. Neil Watson would take advantage of the situation and make four straight free throws to open up the Golden Eagles lead to 33-24. Jeremiah Eason would expand Southern Miss' lead to their largest of the half at 39-25 with two free throws at the 3:14 mark.
Louisiana Tech continued to fight back in the second half and even took a 59-58 lead thanks to two Alex Hamilton free throws with 11:16 left in the game.
That was the only lead Louisiana Tech would have as the play of Michael Craig, Daveon Boardingham, and the free throw shooting of Neil Watson would solidify an 80-71 victory for the Golden Eagles. Craig finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Boardinham posted 20 points and 6 rebounds. Watson went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe and finished with 14 points.
Four of the five Bulldogs starters would finish in double-figures, lead by Alex Hamilton with 19 points. Kenneth Smith added 12 points and 9 assists.
If these two teams meet again then it'll be in the Conference USA Tournament. For now, Southern Miss has a Thursday night road date with first place Old Dominion. Louisiana Tech also has a pivotal match up when hosting Charlotte on Thursday as well.