Feb. 20, 2013
Southern Miss head men's basketball coach Donnie Tyndall knows what it takes to win. In his first head coaching job, he led St. Catherine's College to a 30-5 mark and it's first-ever appearance in the National Junior College Athletics Association National Tournament. After, 10 years as a Division I assistant coach, Tyndall took over the program at his alma mater, Morehead State. In six years at Morehead State, Tyndall led the Eagles to a 114-85, including two Ohio Valley Conference Championships and a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament.
When Tyndall came to Southern Miss, he took over a team that won 25 games last year and made just the school's third trip to the NCAA Tournament. However, he was inheriting just four players off of last year's squad: senior guard Rashard McGill, senior forward Jonathan Mills and junior guards Cedric Jenkins and Neil Watson.
That forced Tyndall and his staff to hit the trail late in the recruiting season to fill out their roster. What they came up with would be the pieces that would become the nucleus of this year's team. But, Tyndall and the Golden Eagles had one more hurdle to climb: a schedule that would see Southern Miss play at home just three times in its first 13 games. Southern Miss spent the majority of its non-conference slate on the road, including games at Georgia, Arizona and Wichita State.
"We knew that our schedule this year would be a very tough one," said Tyndall. "Playing just three of our first 13 games at home and traveling to places like Georgia, Arizona, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Wichita State and Morehead State, we knew that this year's schedule would be very challenging. But our staff and players embraced it, and it ended up preparing us for our conference schedule."
Having lost the majority of last year's squad, many people around the country figured this would be nothing more than a rebuilding year for Southern Miss. But from the start of the season, the Tyndall-led Golden Eagles began to prove everyone wrong. Through the first 26 games, Southern Miss has proved to be more than most teams can handle.
Heading into Wednesday's clash with Conference USA foe UTEP, Southern Miss is 20-6, including a 9-2 record in conference play. It marks the 17th time overall that Southern Miss has recorded 20 wins in a season, including the fourth straight season, just the second time that has happened at the school. In fact, the 20 wins gave Tyndall the most-ever by a first year coach in Southern Miss history, passing legendary head coach Lee Floyd, who won 19 games in 1949-50.
"I'm very proud of this team and what we've accomplished to this point," said Tyndall. "When you talk about playing with the least experienced team in all of college basketball, what we've done, having gone on the road and won nine times, which is the third-most in the country and gotten to 20 wins already at this point in time, it's a tribute to our kids toughness, how hard they have worked and I'm very proud of them.
This year's squad, behind the guidance of Coach Tyndall, has already rewritten the record book as the Golden Eagles have set or tied 25 school records and seven Conference USA records. Heading into tonight's key Conference USA game against UTEP (7 p.m. CT), Southern Miss is on track to set a few more records.
But Southern Miss' success under Tyndall is not limited to just the court. Southern Miss is also seeing success in the classroom, as they posted a cumulative GPA of 2.612 last fall semester. In fact, six players were placed on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll, a distinction only given to student-athletics who have achieved a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
With five games to go in the regular season, Southern Miss is poised to make a run at the conference title. A win, coupled with an East Carolina loss, would clinch a first round bye in the Conference USA Tournament. It would also give the Golden Eagles their second straight 10-win conference season, the first time they would do that in consecutive years.
Added Tyndall, "We certainly are right there in contention to play for a conference championship. Every game is pivotal and really important. We're working on, first and foremost, trying to win the league. Secondly, to get the best possible seed (in the Conference USA Tournament) that we can. We feel that, going into the conference tournament, we're one of up to seven teams with a legit opportunity to win it."