Texas-El Paso (23-9) vs. Southern Miss (26-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 13, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Don Haskins Center (12,222) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: UTEP 14-5, USM 14-0. Away Record: UTEP 8-2, USM 9-5. Neutral Record: UTEP 1-2, USM 3-0. Conference Record: UTEP 12-4, USM 13-3. Series Record: Texas-El Paso leads, 12-8.
GAME NOTES: The No. 4 Southern Miss Golden Eagles will try to knock off the hosting Miners as they tangle with the fifth-seed Texas-El Paso in the quarterfinal round of the Conference USA Tournament at the Don Haskins Center.
The winner of this game will advance to the semifinals to face either No. 1 Louisiana Tech or No. 9 Charlotte.
Southern Miss clinched its first C-USA regular-season championship since 2001, which was expected since it appeared to be the clear No. 2 in the league to Memphis in 2012-13. Coach Donnie Tyndale's squad fell to the fourth seed since its head-to-head record versus the other C-USA schools tied at the top of the standings was the worst among the group. The Golden Eagles played excellent on both ends of the court by shooting 46.5 percent from the field for 72.6 ppg while allowing a C-USA low 62.4 ppg on 42.4 percent shooting. Playing on the road has not been a huge problem for Southern Miss, which is one of just 17 Division I teams with 12 victories away from home.
The Miners finished just one game back of the four-way tie atop the C-USA standings, but have to like their odds as the fifth seed since the tourney is being played in their home arena. The last time the C-USA Tournament was held in El-Paso, UTEP lost to Memphis in the 2011 title game. Coach Tim Floyd's team improved to 14-5 at the Don Haskins Center on Wednesday with a 77-68 victory over East Carolina. UTEP managed to advance despite finishing 12-of-22 at the charity stripe and allowing the Pirates to connect on 12-of-24 attempts from 3- point range.
This will be the 21st meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood. UTEP owns a 12-8 all-time series lead, but USM's 77-68 win over the Miners in Hattiesburg on Feb. 22 marked its fourth win in five games in the rivalry. This will be the third time the Miners and Golden Eagles square off in the C-USA Tournament. USM completed an 85-67 rout of UTEP in last season's conference tourney.
UTEP has four players with double-digit scoring averages and the same number of Miners scored 11 or more in their second round game versus ECU. Junior swingman Julian Washburn led the charge with 20 points on 4-of-8 efficiency from 3- point range, while senior center John Bohannon tallied a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Rookie forward Vince Hunter and UTEP's other starting center, Matt Willms, provided 12 and 11 points, respectively. On the campaign, Washburn (12.9 ppg) and freshman forward Vince Hunter (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are on top of the Miners' scoring column. Bohannon is one of the premier big men in the conference and contributes 11.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 1.7 bpg, while junior C.J. Cooper tallies 9.9 ppg and 2.9 apg.
The Golden Eagles may not be at full strength as senior forward and All C-USA Third Team member Michael Craig, who nets 11 ppg and a team-best 7.8 rpg, played only 10 minutes in his return to action on March 6. Senior point guard Neil Watson's performance in El Paso will most likely be vital to the team's success since he is USM's primary ball handler and playmaker. Watson, who was named First Team All-C-USA, leads the team with 10.8 ppg and 4.1 apg and also ranks fourth nationally in free-throw percentage (.933). USM has as more viable options on the offensive end than any other team in the conference. Senior forward Daveon Boardingham (10.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Temple transfer Aaron Brown (9.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and senior guard Jerrold Brooks (9.6 ppg) are all capable of leading the team in scoring on any given occasion.
Despite UTEP's homecourt advantage, the Golden Eagles are expected to continue their trend of success at the C-USA Championships. USM has won at least one game in the tournament in each of the past eight years, the longest streak of any school in the history of the event. The Miners will need to limit their turnovers to a minimum and convert at the charity stripe to end USM's run.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 75, Texas-El Paso 71
03/13 10:34:31 ET