Western Kentucky pummels lifeless USM

Western Kentucky pummels lifeless USM
The Mississippi High School Activities Association basketball playoffs are now in the semifinal round, and eight teams from the Pine Belt are trying to play their way into championship games. (Photo source: Raycom Image Bank)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After scorching Marshall University Thursday night, University of Southern Mississippi basketball coach Doc Sadler had worried what his Golden Eagles would have left in the tank Saturday evening.

As it turned out, Sadler had reason for concern.

The Golden Eagles fell behind early, trailed by 17 at halftime and never threatened in the second half, eventually falling to Western Kentucky University 64-47 at Green Coliseum.

USM (7-16, 4-7 Conference USA) started slow and never caught a spark like it did in the second half Thursday in a 91-76 over the Thundering Herd.

Instead, the Golden Eagles turned in a low-energy effort that resulted in a second, consecutive Saturday scoring less than 50 points and a fourth straight Saturday loss.

"I don't care what you do in life, if you don't have enthusiasm for what you do, you're not going to be any good at it," Sadler said. "You've got to play with enthusiasm. You're at home. You have no excuse to ever, ever, ever let a team have more energy and enthusiasm.

"The last four weeks on Thursday nights, we've come out and played as hard as we can play, and then on Saturdays, I don't know. We come out and just don't seem to have the energy you've got to have to play this game against good basketball teams."

Already hamstrung by a thin roster, the Golden Eagles learned Wednesday night that they would be without senior point guard Khari Price for the rest of the season.

Price, who missed USM's first 13 games after off-season knee surgery, appeared in just five games before tearing ligaments in his hand. He had not played since Jan. 19.

"Khari's finished," Sadler said. "He'd put in a lot of work to get back out there, so you hate to see it end that way."

The Hilltoppers used 3-pointers to bury the Golden Eagles early, hitting nine of their first 16 attempts in the first 22 ½ minutes of the game.

In less than two minutes, Tobias Howard sandwiched two 3-pointers around a trey by Pancake Thomas as WKU (12-12, 6-5) turned an 11-8 advantage into a 12-point lead, 20-8, halfway through the first half.

USM cut the lead 21-14 on a tip-in by Bilal Abdur-Rahim and still trailed only 23-16 with six minutes left in the half.

But Thomas hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions as WKU finished the first half on a 14-4 run to lead 37-20 at the break.

USM scored the first basket of the second half, but the Hilltoppers pushed the lead to 21 points, 43-22, on Junior Lomomba's 3-pointer with 17:30 to play.

The Golden Eagles never threatened.

"We just came in too relaxed, like, 'We won one, and we're at home, so we'll get another one,' and you can't do that," said USM forward Quinton Campbell, who managed just seven points in 37 minutes.

Thomas led WKU with 18 points, while Justin Johnson had 12 points and 15 rebounds. No Golden Eagle finished in double-figure scoring, Abdur-Rhaim and guard Kevin Holland each finishing with eight points.

USM will head to the University of Texas-San Antonio Thursday and University of Texas-El Paso Saturday.

The Lady Eagles also played Western Kentucky in the Bluegrass State, beaten with the Hilltoppers scoring 79 to the Eagles's 53.

Forward Tasha Brown filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five steals as the Lady Hilltoppers snapped USM's three-game winning streak.

Brittanny Dinkins scored a team-high 17 for the Lady Eagles, while forward Jayla King added 10 points, seven rebound and three steals.

Forward Ivy Brown scored a game-high 20 points and had nine rebounds for WKU (17-6, 9-2), while guard Kendall Noble added 13 points and five rebounds.

USM will return home to host the University of Texas-San Antonio Thursday and University of Texas-El Paso Saturday.