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Coogs First Conference Test: Southern Miss

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will try to keep the good times rolling and break in the new year with win No. 12, as the Houston Cougars pay a visit to Reed Green Coliseum in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

Southern Miss defeated Savannah State, 64-54, to win the Hardwood Club Holiday Tournament last Thursday and improve to 11-2 on the year. It was the first time in school history that the Golden Eagles have won 11 games before January. Senior Gary Flowers was named the tournament's MVP for recording 28 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, while also blocking three shots. Senior R.L. Horton added 13 points and was named to the All-Tournament Team, while fellow senior Sai'Quon Stone chipped in nine points and six boards. The Golden Eagles have won six of seven overall.

Houston closed out its non-conference slate in dominating fashion last Thursday, logging an 85-48 victory over Rogers State. It was the Cougars' biggest win since November of 2008, and the fewest points allowed since December of 2006. Houston's defense also held the Hillcats without a three- pointer, the first time accomplishing that feat since December of 1997. Senior Maurice McNeil led all scorers with 25 points and 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Houston has won two in a row entering its league schedule.

The Cougars hold a narrow 16-14 edge in the all-time series with the Golden Eagles, and have won 10 of the last 15 meetings. However, Southern Miss is 8-3 in that time in Hattiesburg and has won the last two regular-season matchups. UH posted a 74-66 win in the semifinals of last year's C-USA Tournament the last time these two tangled.

Flowers stands second in C-USA with his team-leading 20.8 points and ranks second in conference play in three-point field goal percentage (51.1). He shoots 52.5 percent from the field overall and leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per game. Horton stands second in scoring with 11.8 points and freshman D.J. Newbill averages a solid 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds. Overall, the Golden Eagles put up 78.5 points per game, good for second in Conference USA, while allowing 61.4 points. Southern Miss is holding opponents to just 36.1 percent shooting, also second in league play, and connecting on 45.6 percent of its shots. The well-rounded squad also leads C-USA in rebounding with 42.3 per game, almost a full 10.0 boards over the competition (32.8).

The Cougars are led by Adam Brown's 14.2 points per game and a team-high 26 three-pointers. The senior shoots 44.8 percent on threes and 45.3 percent overall. McNeil is the team's second-leading scorer at 13.5 points and his team-leading 9.3 rebounds per game stands third in league play. Kendric Washington adds depth to both areas with his 11.5 points and 6.4 boards per contest. Senior guard Zamal Nixon leads C-USA with 2.4 steals per contest and ranks second with 5.2 assists per game. Houston boasts good team averages as well, shooting a collective 45.7 percent from the field while holding opponents to 40.0 percent. The Cougars average 71.1 points per game compared to 66.7 points from the opposition and they own a slight edge on the glass (37.7-36.8) as well.

Southern Miss hopes to build on a very successful start to the 2010-11 campaign, but will face a more formidable opponent in Houston. The Golden Eagles will be eager to avenge last year's loss in the C-USA Tournament and a push from the home crowd should be enough to get them by the Cougars in a close one.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 74, Houston 70

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