Southern Miss fades in 70-64 loss to Kansas State
It took Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy 11 years and one very
public downfall to return to the NCAA tournament.
He doesn’t think it will take him – or the Golden Eagles –
nearly as long to get back. That’s why Eustachy shed no tears after
a 70-64 loss to Kansas State in the second round on Thursday.
Considering how far he and the program he inherited in 2004 have
come, there’s hardly any room to complain.
”We just try and try and try,” Eustachy said. ”It’s a
record-setting team for Southern Miss.”
One, though, that faltered midway through the second half when a
five-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit from which the
Golden Eagles couldn’t recover.
”When it came time to make the key plays (Kansas State) did a
better job at it than we did,” Eustachy said. ”I think that was
the deciding factor. In key moments we just broke down.”
Neil Watson led the Southern Miss (25-9) with 16 points, and
LaShay Page had 15. Kentucky transfer Darnell Dodson scored all 14
of his points in the second half, but Southern Miss fell to 0-3 in
NCAA play by wilting in the middle of the second half.
The Golden Eagles had all the momentum after a Dodson 3-pointer
gave them a 45-40 lead.
Kansas State responded with a 18-6 run led by Rodney McGruder
and Jordan Henriquez, who combined for 13 points during the burst,
including a 3-pointer by McGruder that hit every inch of the rim
before rolling in.
Southern Miss made one last run but couldn’t extend Eustachy’s
revival act through the weekend.
The former Iowa State coach led the Cyclones to a pair of Big 12
titles over a decade ago before his stunning downfall. He resigned
in 2003 shortly after photos of him partying with students
Eustachy went to rehabilitation to treat alcoholism and found a
job at Southern Miss, where he’s slowly built the program into a
Conference USA contender by providing a home for cast-offs from
other programs and junior college transfers.
The Golden Eagles repaid Eustachy’s patience by leading the
program to the tournament for the first time since Brett Favre was
still in school. Heady territory for a program and a coach humbled
by the experience.
”This is as special as it gets,” Eustachy said. ”I didn’t
appreciate it as much before. I really didn’t. God has given me a
The Wildcats will play on, though, thanks to the heady play of
freshman guard Angel Rodriguez, who scored seven of his 13 points
in the final 2:10 to fend off one last Southern Miss push.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin called it no coincidence that
Rodriguez – who airballed a couple of shots early and gave it away
three times – was the player with the ball in his hands and the
season on the line.
”It’s not like I trust him with 10 minutes to go and not trust
him with two minutes to go,” Martin said. ”I’ve got tremendous
faith in him. That’s why you saw him out there making the plays he
made towards the end of the game.”
Rodriguez, handed the starting job in January after the Wildcats
got off to a slow start in Big 12 play, hit a nifty reverse layup
after the Golden Eagles drew within three, then added five late
free throws after Kansas State’s defense tightened up.
”We were fortunate to take the punch and stop the bleeding by
making another run,” Rodriguez said
McGruder led Kansas State (22-10) with 30 points – including 18
in the first half when the Wildcats could muster little else – and
Henriquez added 15 points and nine rebounds for Kansas State, which
won its opening NCAA game for the third straight year.
”We’ve elevated our program to one of the better programs in
the country,” Martin said. ”We have been in this thing
consistently. I don’t know how many people can claim they’ve been
in it four out of five years.”
No Wildcat was bigger or tougher than Henriquez. The 6-foot-11
center dominated the lane, swatting six shots and altering a
handful of others.
He wasn’t too bad on the other end of the floor either.
Henriquez – a 52 percent free-throw shooter – made 9 of 10 at the
line to give McGruder some help after a first half in which
McGruder singlehandedly kept Kansas State in front. His play has
the Wildcats brimming with confidence heading into Saturday.
”We have to do what I told the team,” Martin said. ”We got to
be on a bunch of one-game winning streaks. That’s all we got to