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Even with bad loss to ULM, Southern Miss interim coach guarantees conference championship

Southern Miss interim head coach Juan Cardona during a game against Western Michigan on Feb. 10 (Photo courtesy of USM Athletics)

The Southern Miss men’s basketball team’s hot streak was promptly put out on Thursday night when the Golden Eagles dropped their first conference game at home this season.

Despite Southern Miss (14-12, 7-6 Sun Belt) rallying back from a 21-point deficit, it wasn’t enough as Louisiana-Monroe (10-14, 5-6) found its biggest win so far, taking down the Golden Eagles 68-59 while breaking a 14-game winning streak in Hattiesburg.

West Point native Austin Crowley did his best to get the Golden Eagles back into the game, knocking down his eighth basket of the contest with 1:27 left to play to make it a one-point game. Unfortunately, Crowley committed his fifth foul on the following possession, forcing the star guard to the bench.

Southern Miss couldn’t muster any offensive production without Crowley as the defense let up an 8-0 run that would seal a Warhawks’ victory.

Throughout the contest, Louisiana-Monroe took full advantage of Southern Miss mistakes, forcing 18 turnovers and scoring off most of them. After the game, interim head coach Juan Cardona took full responsibility for the Golden Eagles’ poor play.

“This was on me. I think every time we went out there it was tougher to score,” Cardona said. The associate head coach has been filling in the last three games for Jay Ladner, who suffered a heart-related emergency last week but is expected to make a full recovery.

Even with the loss, Cardona’s confidence remains unwavering, saying his team will take the next couple of days to recalibrate and get ready to close out the season before the Sun Belt tournament begins on March 5. Cardona even went as far as to promise that the Golden Eagles are going to win the conference tournament and earn their first berth to the NCAA Tournament since 2012.

“I’ll tell you right now – and it doesn’t matter where we sit atop the rankings – we’re gonna win it all,” Cardona said. “We have to stay behind the guys and figure it out, which we will. Guaranteed.”

Leading the stat sheet for Southern Miss was Crowley’s 22 points and 10 rebounds. Big men Tegra Izay and Victor Iwuakor combined for 19 points and 17 rebounds. For Louisiana-Monroe, Tyreke Locure led the way with 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists.

The Golden Eagles will be back at home on Saturday against Texas State. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT.

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