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Southern Miss (11-2) at Rhode Island (7-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 28, 2 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Thomas M. Ryan Center (7,657) -- Kingston, Rhode Island. Television: OSN. Home Record: USM 5-0, URI 7-1. Away Record: USM 3-2, URI 0-4. Neutral Record: USM 3-0, URI 0-0. Conference Record: USM 0-0, URI 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles return to the mainland to battle the Rhode Island Rams in a non-conference matchup at the Thomas M. Ryan Center.
Southern Miss improved to 11-2 with back-to-back victories over Coppin State (88-74) and Arkansas-Little Rock (74-60) in the BVI Tropical Shootout in the British Virgin Islands last weekend. The Golden Eagles will now try to collect their sixth win in seven games as well as bolster their 3-2 away mark against the Rams. Coach Donnie Tyndall's squad has been a difficult opponent all season long as its only losses came courtesy of Louisville and Western Kentucky. Southern Miss has managed to knock off some notable foes in DePaul, North Dakota State and South Alabama.
The Rams snapped a three-game losing streak on Sunday with a 62-45 decision over New Hampshire. Although URI is 7-5 overall, its only loss at home came on Dec. 5 to Providence, as it won its other seven contests at the Thomas. M Ryan Center. Coach Dan Hurley had his squad ready to face the Wildcats last weekend as the Rams opened the game up on a 22-2 run.
This will be the first meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood.
The Golden Eagles are expected to be one of the top contenders for the Conference USA title this season. They are ranked just eighth among the 16 member schools in scoring offense at 73.4 points per game but are the top defensive unit in the league with only 63 points allowed per contest. USM has a very balanced attack with multiple players capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night present in the rotation. Neil Watson was named the tournament's MVP in the Virgin Islands after tallying 19 points and five assists in the win over UALR. Michael Craig also registered a double-double with 10 points and 10 points while Daveon Boardingham provided a spark off the bench with 11 points in 16 minutes. USM's defensive prowess was evident as well as it held UALR to 6-of-20 efficiency from behind the 3-point line and also forced the Trojans into 15 turnovers.
URI is one of the weakest teams offensively in the Atlantic 10 Conference at just 67.8 ppg, but it is fifth in the league in scoring defense with, giving up only 66.3 ppg. Senior guard Xavier Munford has scored in double figures in all but one game this season on his way to a team-best 14.8 ppg. Munford finished the rout of UNH with only 11 points after tying his season low with nine field goal attempts. Gilvydas Biruta registered a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards to go along with two blocks. Biggie Minnis and E.C. Matthews are both key players for URI as well, which appears to be poised to be much more competitive in this year's weaker A-10 field.
Although USM is clearly the better team on paper, winning on the road is never an easy task. The Rams have protected their home floor pretty well to this point. The Golden Eagles could pull away for an easy win, but Munford and Matthews are going to be difficult to contain.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 68, Rhode Island 63
12/28 10:43:06 ET