Even in defeat, it's now Tyndalltown
Donnie Tyndall’s Southern Miss Golden Eagles suffered their worst loss of his first season in their last game. BYU’s taller, much more accurate Cougars handed USM a 79-62 defeat, denying USM a trip to New York City and Madison Square Garden.
The Cougars simply worked the ball around and through the Eagles’ matchup zone until somebody got an open look at the basket. And when that happened, BYU rarely missed. At the same time, USM suffered one of its worst shooting nights. Shots that usually go down did not.
Thus, BYU takes a 24-11 record on to New York. USM finishes 27-10. But — and this is a big but — Donnie Tyndall, not quite a year into this Southern Miss job, has become the most popular basketball figure in Hattiesburg since, well, pick one: M.K. Turk or Clarence Weatherspoon.
Tyndall’s achievements in his first season should not be overlooked because of Wednesday night’s defeat. The Eagles were picked to finish eighth or ninth in Conference USA, depending on whether you listened to the coaches or the media. Tyndall, himself, thought a break-even season would be a good start.
Instead, the Eagles finished second in the league behind Memphis, had a No. 31 RPI in the country, a top seed in the NIT and came within one basket of making the NCAA Tournament. This they did without a single starter over 6 feet, 5 inches tall.
They did it by playing especially hard on defense and by sharing the basketball on offense.
But it’s what Tyndall and his team achieved off the court that could well be why his first USM team is remembered the most.
What they did is make basketball matter again in Hattiesburg. Not since the glory days of M.K. Turk has Reed Green Coliseum housed the kind of crowds, energy and passion that was on display for the last month of the season and in the NIT.
Don’t misunderstand. James Green, who followed Turk, was successful in most regards. He won Conference USA when it still had teams such as Louisville, Marquette, St. Louis, DePaul and others in it. Larry Eustachy followed Green and eventually built an NCAA Tournament team. Eustachy then took his first Colorado State team to the NCAA Tournament and won a game. Both those guys can seriously coach.
But, for whatever reasons, neither ever won back the fan support Turk enjoyed during the glory days of USM basketball.
Tyndall did that. He did it with the student body. He did it with the general public. And this clearly was not a one-year wonder. Yes, Tyndall will lose his leading scorer and C Spire Howell Trophy finalist Dwayne Davis. He will lose Jonathan Mills, one of the toughest guys to ever play at USM. He loses Rashard McGill, a versatile guy who provided quality depth at virtually every position.
But Tyndall welcomes back every other player, including Michael Craig, one of the team’s most talented players who missed the last 13 games after a leg injury. Plus, Tyndall has said all along he has transfer players who sat out this season as good as any of the guys who played.
Just as importantly, Tyndall will begin his second season with something he didn’t have to start his first: fan support.
The importance of that cannot be overstated.