HATTIESBURG — It was by no means easy, but the Southern Miss men's basketball team held on for a 78-71 victory over Charleston Southern on Wednesday night.
USM now prepares to take on Louisiana Tech at 9 p.m. on Monday in a second-round match to be televised by ESPNU.
When asked what he thinks of the late tip against the Bulldogs, USM coach Donnie Tyndall grinned and answered, "Get in your nap, brah."
Tyndall and point guard Neil Watson both talked about how they felt the 65-55 loss at Louisiana Tech on Dec. 8 cost USM a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Watson personally blamed himself for the defeat, and it should make for a game that's more intense than usual for the NIT.
Tyndall and his players were very thankful for the 5,018 fans that showed up for Wednesday's game. It was potentially the most intense crowd of the season.
"It was fantastic," Watson said. "To see the community come around us like that, especially from us being here when we first got here when we only saw 1,000 to 2,000 people with a whole a bunch of spaces. Now, you can't see an empty space in the gym. As soon as the ball goes up or it's a bad call or the ball goes through the net, to hear all that love and support behind us makes us want to play harder. Through fatigue, through whatever we're going through, it makes us want to go out there and make our fans happy.
Tyndall took to the microphone to thank the fans for their support after the game.
When I took the job over, being very candid, people said it's a football school," Tyndall said. "Baseball is second and they're never going to support basketball. Why would you take the job? I was at a football school for four years as an assistant at LSU. It doesn't get much bigger than that football-wise. I understood that. LSU was winning national championships in baseball so they were supporting baseball. But yet, we got our program going and we went to the Sweet 16. If you have the support in those other sports, eventually, if they jump on board, it could be something special. I didn't think it would click or happen this early in the process. To have 26 wins and have a crowd like that in the middle of March when it's baseball season, that's what gets you emotional because you can't really show or tell people how appreciative of the fans you are."
Southern Miss improved to 26-9 with the victory to set the school record for most wins during the program's Division I era.
USM also pushed its non-conference home winning streak to 29 games for another school record.
Jonathan Mills led five different Eagles scoring in double figures with 16 points and nine rebounds. (Dwayne Davis 15, Jerrold Brooks 14, Daveon Boardingham 10, Neil Watson 10)
Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the game that he believed Southern Miss should have been an NCAA Tournament team.