UAB ends USM's 7-game winning streak
BIRMINGHAM -- There's now a crowd atop Conference USA after UAB handed Southern Miss its first loss in over a month, 84-60, Thursday at Bartow Arena.
Southern Miss is still tied for first place in C-USA, but not in the fashion it had hoped for.
Florida Atlantic topped UTEP, 71-69, on Thursday to create a four-way tie for first place. USM, UTEP, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech are all 8-2 in league play with six games remaining on the league slate for each team.
"Like I said from the first game, this league is as balanced as any league in America," USM coach Donnie Tyndall said. "We've got to be ready to play every single night. There are good teams and good coaches across the board. We've got to put this behind us as hard as it is to do. We've got to regroup and get ready for a good Middle Tennessee team."
The 24-point loss was USM's worst league defeat since losing 95-65 at Marshall in 2011.
"The bottom line is they were better tonight, more physical, tougher," Tyndall said. "They were more competitive. I don't think our team wasn't tough or competitive. They were just better. I said this for three days, you don't beat North Carolina if you don't have good players or have a good team"
Thursday's road loss amounts to USM's worst defeat of the season and potentially a substantial blow to the team's chances at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
The Golden Eagles (21-4, 8-2) still control their own destiny for a regular season title, but it has little room for error with six games remaining on the schedule.
"I believe every team (in the league) has still got a chance," USM forward Daveon Boardingham said. "I'm not going say it's a blessing for us for (UTEP) to lose. We've just have our work cut out for us."
Despite missing significant time due to foul trouble, C.J. Washington led UAB with 21 points on eight-of-13 shooting.
Point guard Chad Frazier had an impressive double-double of 20 points and 10 assists for the Blazers (15-9, 4-6).
"Frazier was the best guard on the floor when they beat North Carolina (63-59 on Dec. 1) and he was the best player in the gym tonight," Tyndall said. "We couldn't do anything with him."
UAB entered the game on a three-game skid while USM was riding a seven-game winning streak.
Senior forward Michael Craig was the lone Golden Eagle who resembled his usual form with 14 points and five rebounds.
With Boardingham battling early foul trouble, Jeremiah Eason had 12 points and six rebounds off the bench.
The best way to beat Tyndall's match-up zone is to hit your outside shots, and that's what UAB did on Thursday. The Blazers hit a season-high 11 3-pointers on 23 attempts.
Many of the final stats indicated a tight contest at Bartow Arena on Thursday, but UAB's shots fell while USM's attempts rimmed out time and time again.
"It's just one of those games," Boardingham said. "Nobody's perfect. They're a great team and they played good defense. The shots didn't fall."
USM can get back on track in its pursuit of a regular season title if it can win at Middle Tennessee at 1 p.m. on Saturday, but it will have to make progress after Thursday's disappointing road performance.