Toledo (27-6) at Southern Miss (27-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 19, 8:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Reed Green Coliseum (8,095) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: ESPN3.com. NIT Record: Toledo 3-7, Southern Miss 8-8. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The National Invitation Tournament's first round rolls on with a matchup featuring the sixth-seeded Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference taking on the third-seeded Southern Miss Golden Eagles of Conference USA at Reed Green Coliseum.
The winner of this first-round clash will take on either second-seeded Missouri or seventh-seeded Davidson in the next round.
Toledo grabbed the second overall seed in the MAC Tournament after the regular season, and made it through to the conference title game before being ousted by Western Michigan, 98-77.
Southern Miss had an exceptional year in Conference USA, earning a share of the regular-season title before the team was bounced in the semifinal round of the league tournament by Louisiana Tech, 88-70.
This contest will represent the first-ever meeting between the Rockets and the Golden Eagles.
Toledo and Western Michigan were two very offensive-minded teams, which was proven in the MAC championship bout. The Broncos led the Rockets, 42-40, at the end of the first half, and ran off 56 second-half points to end Toledo's hopes at the NCAA Tournament. The Rockets were hindered by 35 percent shooting in the second half, which included 2-of-16 from 3-point range. Rian Pearson scored 24 points to pace Toledo, hitting 8-of-19 from the floor. Julius Brown netted 22 points with a team-high five assists, and also notched four steals in the defeat.
Toledo's starting five has been a force to be reckoned with this season, with four of the five members averaging a scoring total in the double digits. Brown tops the team with a 14.8 ppg mark, and leads the team with 202 assists on the year. Pearson is second at 14.7 ppg, Justin Drummond checks in at third with 14.2 ppg, and big man J.D. Weatherspoon chips in 10.8 ppg with a team-leading 6.7 rpg. Toledo's high-powered offense averages 79.8 ppg, and gives up 73.5 ppg to opponents.
Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech had a tight battle going as the clock wound its way down inside four minutes left in the first half. The Golden Eagles trailed by just one point with 3:37 left in the first, but the Bulldogs rattled off a 12-5 run to close out the frame and never looked back. Michael Craig led Southern Miss in the game with 19 points, adding nine rebounds to his stat line. Jerrold Brooks chipped in 14 points, Deonte Houston contributed 12 and Daveon Boardingham scored 10 in the loss, which dashed the Golden Eagles' hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Southern Miss isn't the most offensive-driven team, but plays solid scoring defense, allowing just 62.9 ppg to opponents on the year. Craig leads the Golden Eagles in scoring at 11 ppg, hitting 59.2 percent of his shot attempts. Craig brings down a team-leading 7.4 rpg, and has recorded 38 steals, which is second on the team. Boardingham adds 10.6 ppg, and Neil Watson chips in 10.3 ppg with a team-high 131 assists. The Golden Eagles score an average of 72.3 ppg through 33 games played.
The homecourt advantage will be extremely helpful for Southern Miss, and the team will need it against a strong offensive program like Toledo. Both teams have a lot to prove after exiting their conference tournaments, but the advantage goes to the Golden Eagles and the safeguard scoring defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 77, Toledo 74
03/19 10:31:18 ET