HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Since the series first began in 2003, William Carey University has never bested the University of Southern Mississippi on the hardwood. Not that big of a surprise when you pit an NAIA team against a Division I.
That being said, this year's edition has the potential to be very interesting. For one, the previous two were only exhibition matchups, and didn't count toward anything. This year, it's a regular-season game, which means throw in records, rankings, RPI, possible post-season implications...the whole nine yards...which will add a little more incentive for both sides.
After a decisive 94-58 road win over Morehead State, 9-3 Southern Miss faces a William Carey squad in the midst of an 11-1 start; the best start in school history. Following a nail-biting, and improbable, win over visiting Xavier on Dec. 18, the Crusaders ranked as the tenth best team in the country, and will play West Alabama before returning to Hattiesburg.
Think William Carey believes they can beat the Black and Gold?
"You have a chance. Every time you tip it up you have a chance," says head man Steve Knight, now in his 31st season with the Crusaders , "Certain things will have to go our way. We'll have to guard, we'll have to rebound the ball, we'll have to try and turn them over some, and get in our transition game."
Think Donnie Tyndall is aware of the what Carey is doing this season?
"They're team is talented," says the Golden Eagles' first-year head coach, "They played Mississippi State really tough in an exhibition game earlier in the year. We understand that we're going to get their best shot, and we need to be prepared and ready to play."
Looking at the numbers makes things a little more interesting. While the Crusaders feature the eighth best scoring offense in the NAIA, averaging over 85 points a game, the Golden Eagles will bring one of the tougher defenses in Conference USA, thus far.
In conference, Southern Miss ranks second in scoring defense and rebounding defense, and ranks first in offensive rebounding percentage, steals, three-point defense, and field goal percentage.
"We're smaller than them, so we have to be quicker than them," says senior forward Jamal Doss, "I think if we can beat them to the loose balls and offensive rebound pretty good, we can get them."
Numbers aside, it's two Hattiesburg universities, both playing well, and one with a chance to make a big statement on New Year's Eve. Doss thinks his team can do more than puff out its chest.
"I think we can get'em," he said, "I hear they're pretty good, but we're pretty good too."