The last time UCF fans convened at the UCF Arena, they witnessed their beloved Knights knock off the Conference USA bullies, the Memphis Tigers, for the first time in school history. Later today, they return to The Dungeon and host what could be an even bigger game against arguably a tougher opponent in Southern Mississippi.
Southern Mississippi comes in tied a top the Conference USA standings with Memphis with a 5-1 record in conference play. The Golden Eagles have the highest RPI in the conference at 15 (UCF is currently 66th) and have an 18-3 record overall. The team is led in scoring by junior guard LaShay Page who is averaging just 13.3 points a game but is joined by four other teammates who are scoring at least least ten points a contest. The Golden Eagles lead all Conference USA teams in scoring with 1147 points on the season and a 71.7 points per game average. However, they are second worst in points allowed surrendering 69.7 points per game.
Despite a rather undersized lineup that includes just one regular player over 6-7, the Golden Eagles are in a virtual tie with UCF for rebounds on the season as UCF averages 38.1 while Southern Miss averages 37.6 rebounds per contest. In fact, these two teams are nearly identical in most categories.
There are, however, two areas in which the teams differ greatly. Southern Miss is tops in the conference in free throw shooting hitting 74 percent of their free throws while UCF is converting 71 percent of theirs. That total has improved for the Knights in recent weeks, but was a big factor in road losses at Lousiana-Lafayette and Marshall. The Golden Eagles also have the advantage from deep as they have hit 35 percent of their 3-point attempts this season in 230 attempts while UCF has knocked down 32 percent of theirs in 295 attempts.
Southern Miss is the worst team in the conference in defending that shot as their opponents have drilled 40 percent of their 3-point shots while UCF has held their opponents to a 38 percent average. The Knights did not do a good job of defending the 3-point shot at Tulsa and must improve tonight while avoiding sending the Golden Eagles to the charity stripe where they have made opponents pay all season.
Southern Miss has won 14 of their last 15 contests with the one loss coming by two points to Memphis on the road. Their conference games have all been decided by five points or less so far with the exception of a second game against East Carolina in which they beat the Pirates by 12 in Greenville.
In order to win tonight, the Knights must get a more consistent effort from their leading scorer, Marcus Jordan, who has taken on a Jeckyll and Hyde like performance during conference play. At home, Jordan is shooting 42 percent from the floor, 5 for 12 behind the arc, and 11 of 12 from the free throw line. On the road, Jordan is shooting just 24 percent from the floor, 2 of 17 from behind the arc, and 13 of 22 from the free throw line.
This contest was one of the more memorable ones at the UCF Arena last season as A.J. Rompza hit a game-winning 3-point shot with two seconds left to play to deliver a 65 to 64 victory. Odds-makers have UCF favored by 3.5 tonight.