Southern Miss (22-5) at Texas-El Paso (13-13)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, February 22nd, 9:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Don Haskins Center (12,222) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: USM 13-0, UTEP 10-4. Away Record: USM 7-4, UTEP 1-8. Neutral Record: USM 2-1, UTEP 2-1. Conference Record: USM 9-3, UTEP 6-6. Series Record: Texas-El Paso leads, 11-5.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will try to maintain their share of the Conference USA lead tonight when they visit the Don Haskins Center to take on the Texas-El Paso Miners.
Southern Miss entered the week tied with Memphis for the top spot in the C-USA standings with four games to go until the conference tournament. But after winning seven of their previous eight games, the Golden Eagles were dealt a 73-71 setback at Houston this past Saturday. Following this tilt, the Golden Eagles will play two straight in Hattiesburg, where they are a perfect 13-0 on the year.
Meanwhile, Texas-El Paso has rebounded from a season-worst four-game slide by winning each of its last three contests. The latest two of those victories have both come by only a two-point margin, including Saturday's huge 60-58 win at Memphis. Not only was it the Miners' first road victory in nine tries this season, it also came against a league powerhouse.
This is the only scheduled meeting between these two teams during the regular season. UTEP leads the all-time series, 11-5.
USM's Neil Watson scored a team-high 27 points on Saturday behind a 5-of-7 effort from beyond the arc, including a remarkable string of three straight threes in the final eight seconds of regulation. However, Houston was able to withstand that late barrage by going a perfect 10-of-10 at the foul line over the final minute and change, and USM missed four straight field-goal attempts before Watson made things interesting in the final seconds. Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, the narrow loss did not cost them the top spot in the conference standings thanks to tonight's opponent, the Miners, and their upset win at Memphis on Saturday. Jonathan Mills joined Watson in double figures with 15 points and 14 rebounds to go along with three steals. On the season, six Golden Eagles are averaging at least nine points, led by Watson and his 12.2 points and 4.6 assists per tilt. Watson is a 42.1-percent shooter from beyond the arc, although his 32 three-pointers are nearly half of second- leading scorer LaShay Page's (12.1 ppg) 65 treys (.359). In addition to their long-range shooting, the Golden Eagles also do a good job of crashing the boards as a team, as they are +4.6 in rebounding margin.
UTEP boasts four players averaging double figures behind 47-percent shooting as a team. Michael Perez leads the way with 12.2 ppg and is a 40-percent shooter from the perimeter. Julian Washburn (11.1 ppg) has also contributed offensively at the wing, while forwards Gabriel McCulley (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and John Bohannon (11.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) have handled the bulk of the dirty work down low. McCulley and Bohannon are shooting at a combined 56 percent from the floor and are a couple of reliable options when they can get feeds positioned near the basket. Defensively, the Miners have held foes to 62.9 ppg, and they limited Memphis to 37.5-percent shooting on Saturday. In that game, the Miners out-scored Memphis 9-3 in the final three and a half minutes. Jacques Streeter played a big part down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 14 points after halftime as UTEP took its first lead with 1:19 to play in regulation. The Miners shot 61 percent from the floor in the second half, out-scoring the Tigers 41-30 over the final 20 minutes. Perez led the way with 15 points in the win, while McCulley finished with nine points and a dozen boards.
If the Miners can find a way to knock off conference leaders in successive games, it would certainly help atone for what has largely been an up and down season to this point. Winners of three straight, perhaps the Miners have saved their best basketball of the year for just the right time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 75, Southern Miss 74
02/22 10:34:03 ET