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Southern Miss head coach Jay Ladner returns from heart attack to participate in senior night

Jay Ladner returned from a heart attack to participate in senior night on Saturday (Photo courtesy of USM Athletics)

Maybe it was senior night, maybe it was because it was the last game at Reed Green Coliseum for the season, or maybe it was the return of head coach Jay Ladner. But whatever it was, Southern Miss was not going to be denied a victory on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles (16-13, 9-7 Sun Belt) defeated the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (17-12, 9-7) by a score of 82-71 to get back in the win column after a mid-week loss to South Alabama.

How it happened

Unlike the last few games, Southern Miss got off to a decent start with seniors Mo Arnold, Victor Iwuakor, and Tate Ryder making multiple baskets before a TV timeout was called and the score at 13-8 in the Golden Eagles’ favor. Despite Louisiana making a rally, Southern Miss led 31-29 at halftime.

Coming back out of the gates, Southern Miss went on a 23-8 run before Louisiana called a timeout with 13 minutes left. With Victor Hart and Andre Curbelo leading the charge, the game never got within five points as the Golden Eagles dominated on the glass and secured its final home victory.

What the coach said

With the surprise return of Ladner for senior night – in a supporting role only – interim head coach Juan Cardona was appreciative of the head man returning, even if it was only for the seniors.

“Ladner is the man who blessed me, and it’s my job, our job as a staff to bless him and keep blessing people through the help he gave us,” Cardona said. “Without him opening the door, then I’m not here… It starts and ends with Coach Ladner.”

Ladner had been out for the past five games after suffering a heart-related emergency, in which he is expected to make a full recovery from.

Cardona also used his postgame presser to give credit to the seniors: Iwuakor, Hart, Arnold, Ryder, Austin Crowley, and Donovan Ivory.

“The guys who came here for two years just landed the 41st win in two years, plus the tournament and the two games we have left,” Cardona pointed out. “There is something to be said about that. There’s no way in the regular season that for two years in a row we have a positive record without them.”

Numbers don’t lie

Curbelo led Southern Miss in scoring with 24 points off the bench, matching his career high. Iwuakor ended his final home game with 12 points and 11 rebounds to notch his fifth double-double of the season. Crowley finished with 18 points and is now three points shy of 1,000 career points as a Golden Eagle.

Hart finished the night with 15 points and nine rebounds, while Arnold added another eight on the scoreboard. Southern Miss, as a team, shot 52.6 percent from the floor and 46.7 percent from deep.

Next up

The Golden Eagles finish the season on a two-game road trip at South Alabama and at Louisiana. The first part of the stretch comes in Mobile, Ala., on Wednesday against the Jaguars. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN+.

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