Double-transfer Victor Iwuakor undoubtedly had his best performance against a nonconference opponent on Saturday as Southern Miss handled Western Michigan 86-54 in Hattiesburg.
Iwuakor, who played for Oklahoma and UNLV before joining the Golden Eagles last offseason, scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. More impressively, the forward also was a constant presence protecting the paint with three blocks and three steals.
How it happened
In the final game of the MAC-SBC Challenge, both teams began by swapping leads until West Point native Austin Crowley knocked down a jumper with 16:42 left in the first half to give the Golden Eagles an 8-7 lead – one they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
The Golden Eagles, up 36-20 with 6:13 remaining until the break, allowed the Broncos to go on a 13-0 lead to make it a one possession game. That’s when Iwuakor went for back-to-back baskets for USM to take a 40-33 lead into the break.
Coming back out of the gates, Western Michigan matched every Southern Miss score in the first few minutes to keep it close before a defensive stop and a Tegra Izay dunk put the Golden Eagles up by 10. While the Broncos pulled the score back within single digits, it didn’t last long as USM went on a 21-0 run to go up 27 with only six minutes left. A pair of three-pointers from recently-returned Victor Hart was the final haymaker as Southern Miss found its biggest win of the season.
What the coach said
While Southern Miss head coach Jay Ladner missed his second game after suffering a heart-related medical emergency earlier in the week, interim head coach Juan Cardona was more than pleased with the team’s performance – referencing his belief that the Golden Eagles have what it takes to win next month’s Sun Belt tournament.
“Thank you to the fans, players, and staff today as we don’t talk about championships, [but] we feel a championship coming,” Cardona said. “The vibe that’s in that locker room shows everybody this team is here to stay. When you’re down in life, can you still dream big? When championship teams smell blood, they go for the kill.”
Cardona, who said on the SuperTalk Eagle Hour earlier this week that Ladner is set to make a full recovery, continued to ask fans to keep Ladner in their thoughts.
“Coach Ladner has blessed my life,” Cardona continued. “My responsibility is to make sure this team keeps going until he gets back.”
The numbers don’t lie
Southern Miss finished the game with a season-high 22 assists and had five players score double digits for the second time this season.
Iwuakor’s three blocks notched his season total up to 53, which is second in the Sun Belt and top 20 in the nation. The Golden Eagles now have 118 blocks on the year, four shy of moving into the program’s top 10 all time for the statistic.
Hart finished with 11 points and went three of four from beyond the arc as Southern Miss as a whole went 12 of 26 from three-point range. Crowley – coming off a career game – finished with 10 points and 10 assists.
The Broncos were led by Seth Hubbard, who posted 17 points and two steals. Owen Lobsinger added 12 points, seven rebounds, and three steals for Western Michigan (8-16, 5-6 MAC).
Southern Miss (14-11, 7-5 SBC) will return to conference action on Thursday when it hosts Louisiana-Monroe. Tipoff is set for 7:20 p.m. following the conclusion of the women’s game, which begins at 5 p.m.