Golden Eagles refocus; set sights on NIT title

Disappointed and heartbroken; feelings shared among the University of Southern Mississippi men's basketball team Sunday night, after learning their postseason fate. Instead of heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, the Golden Eagles earned a number one seed in the National Invitational Tournament, which means they were most likely one of the first, if not the first team, left out.

Despite winning 25 games for the second straight year and proving their metal against eventual conference champion Memphis, USM was denied a second straight trip to the big dance, but it can still make a bit of history. As a number one seed, Donnie Tyndall's team is well positioned to win the NIT; something done by only one other USM squad.

M.K. Turk's 1986-1987 team went on to win five straight games in the NIT, which included a first-round home win over arch-rival Ole Miss, and won the title by beating La Salle in Madison Square Garden.

As a number one seed, USM maintains home-court advantage through the quarterfinals. If they reach the final four, they'll head to New York City and compete at the Garden.

"We're going to try and win a championship," said senior guard Dwayne Davis, "We're going to take this very seriously, just like any other game, and just keep playing Southern Miss basketball."

But how might the team's disappointment of not making the NCAA's affect their play in Wednesday night's tournament-opener? Tyndall doesn't believe much at all. "We've got a very resilient group of young men," he said after Monday's practice, "They're winners, they have character, and we talked immediately after (Sunday's NCAA tournament selections) about regrouping and re-prioritizing what we're trying to do and that's a great opportunity to play in the NIT.

"Hopefully we'll play well."

The first test is against 19-12 Charleston Southern University of the Big South Conference. Tip off is 8:15 pm.

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