Clash on the Coast

Two 8-4 teams meet in Biloxi tonight at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Both teams continue to put pieces of the puzzle together as conference play approaches. Both also know they need a victory for a variety of reasons.

It's the 21st meeting on the hardwood for Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi in men's basketball. The Rebels lead the series 16-4 and won 78-58 in Southaven last season.

Southern Miss actually likes how things have been going lately. The Golden Eagles enter the game with four straight victories this season. It will also be USM's third straight game on the Mississippi Coast after going 2-0 in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic with wins over Spring Hill College and Weber State. Both those games were played at Gulfport High's Bert Jenkins Gymnasium.

Coach Larry Eustachy's Golden Eagles feature a tough-nosed defense, allowing just 59.9 points per game while scoring 67.5 per game on the offensive end. Junior guard Jeremy Wise does most everything for the Eagles, as he leads the squad with 18.4 points per game, 4.9 assists per contest, 7 blocks and 21 steals. He also ranks among the nation's leaders in free-throw percentage, hitting at a 90.3 percent rate (84-of-93). Courtney Beasley averages 12.7 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game, while R.L. Horton chips in 11.9 points per outing.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, continues to find itself dealing with injuries, playing several inexperienced newcomers, and moving along this season without three key players in Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice, and Trevor Gaskins.

Two of those three played huge roles in the UM-USM encounter last season. Warren led Ole Miss, ranked 22nd nationally at the time, to its then school-record 12-0 start with 17 points, while Dwayne Curtis added 15 points and 9 rebounds and Polynice recorded a near triple-double with 14 points, 13 boards and 9 assists.

Finding the inside game that's been lacking with the departure of not only Curtis but also Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell has been a challenge for Coach Andy Kennedy and staff. Some signs that it is coming around were evident in the last game.

Freshman forward Murphy Holloway leads the team with 5.9 rebounds per game and had a big game on the glass against Florida A&M (an 86-63 UM win last week), posting the Rebels' first double-double of the year with 15 points and 16 boards. Sophomore forward Malcolm White has also shown promise, grabbing nine rebounds in two of the last three games. Junior forward DeAundre Cranston grabbed nine rebounds against Louisville and had 12 in the win over Central Florida on Nov. 26.

Ole Miss and Southern Miss play again next season at a site to be determined. Jackson was the intended venue, but that could change to either Tupelo or Southaven.

Following tonight's game, Ole Miss hosts Nicholls State Saturday at 2 p.m.

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