Patrick Magee

Southern Miss basketball finds new life in C-USA play

Southern Miss guard Khari Price takes a shot while competing against UTEP on Jan. 28 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss guard Khari Price takes a shot while competing against UTEP on Jan. 28 in Hattiesburg.

A week ago, the Southern Miss men's basketball team was stumbling through a nine-game losing streak.

Two Conference USA wins later, there's suddenly new life for Doc Sadler's squad.

The skid came to an end on Thursday in a 77-59 win over Texas-San Antonio and Sadler got to watch his players celebrate a victory for the first time in a while.

“Just beating UTSA, the weight was lifted,” Sadler said. “You could see it in the locker room after the game. There was more enthusiasm at practice on Friday.

“We've got to get some swagger. We don't have a lot of swagger. We've got to believe we're good. If we work hard, good things are going to happen.”

On Saturday, USM handed UTEP a 73-65 defeat in Hattiesburg to improve to 2-1 in league play and 5-10 overall.

The return of senior point guard Khari Price is a big reason USM is suddenly competitive against C-USA teams. The former Dayton transfer missed the first 13 games of the season due to a knee injury, leaving the Golden Eagles without a true point guard.

He returned against UTSA, scoring 20 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. With Price back in the fold, Sadler can be much more flexible with his lineup.

“It allows some other guys to play different positions,” Sadler said. “It allows Cortez (Edwards) to not be on the point. He's never been a point guard.

“Khari talks and he usually knows what he's talking about. He gets us in position on offense and helps us on defense.”

Better backcourt

Edwards and senior guard Quinton Campbell have benefited the most from Price's return. Edwards averaged 15 points and eight rebounds over the last two games while Campbell averaged 22 points and seven rebounds over the same stretch.

Even though Price was held to one point and four assists in Saturday's win over UTEP, his simple presence on the court is a major boost.

The biggest challenge for Price going forward is building up his conditioning. USM's conference schedule usually requires it to play a Thursday night game and return on one day's rest for a Saturday contest.

“The bottom line is he really hasn't practiced that much,” Sadler said.

Price's return softens the impact of the loss of sophomore forward Tim Rowe for the rest of the season due to a foot injury. The 6-foot-10 Rowe was averaging 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds at the time of his injury.

With less depth in the frontcourt, Sadler is often going with four guards in the lineup.

‘Kick the other one’s butt’

It will be up to 6-foot-7 sophomore Eddie Davis, 6-7 senior Raheem Watts and 6-7 sophomore Bilal Abdur-Rahim to carry the load in the post.

“I'm waiting for one of those guys to decide they want to be the guy and play 25-30 minutes,” Sadler said. “I need one of those guys to step up and kick the other one's butt because that's going to make us a better team. Right now, none of them are doing that. We have to do it by committee more than the individual.”

Sadler's squad is set to face a difficult challenge on the road this week as USM travels to face Old Dominion (10-6, 3-1) at 6 p.m. on Thursday and Charlotte (7-8, 1-3) at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

“(Old Dominion) is a team that's defensively really, really good,” Sadler said. “Scoring is going to be difficult. And then you've got a totally different team in Charlotte that's good in transition. It's two contrasting teams.”

While the odds will be stacked against the Eagles on the road, they'll at least have a fighting chance with Price running the point.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee