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Long trip for Golden Eagles

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One team's loss resulted in another team's game.

That's how it came to be that the University of Charleston men's basketball team will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., to take on Southern Miss at 9:15 tonight.

That spot on the schedule was originally reserved for Mountain State, but after the school folded, UC coach Mark Downey put in a call to old friend and current Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall.

Tyndall enters his first year at Southern Miss by way of a very successful stint at Morehead State. 

The result is an exhibition matchup of Golden Eagles.

"I've known Donnie a long time," Downey said. "He played Mountain State every year and things happened over the summer and they shut their doors so we called and he said, 'Yeah, we'll play the game.' It happened pretty quick."

The connection between the two coaches dates back to Downey's time as an assistant at the University of New Orleans and Tyndall's tenure as an assistant at Middle Tennessee State back in the early 2000s, when the two often worked together.

"I've known him awhile," Downey said. "We watched a lot of film and did a lot of scouting together. I know his guys will be very physical and tough. They go hard to the offensive glass. We've got to step up to the challenge."

As if taking on a Division I program wasn't enough, UC will have to go tonight without Winthrop transfer Robbie Dreher, who was expected to be one of Charleston's best players this season.

The junior is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA after he took online classes at Marshall last year.

Dreher was one of 11 newcomers to the program this year and it will be a trial-by-fire situation tonight in Hattiesburg.

"I think it will be a good test for us," Downey said. "We've been playing guys on our level and now we're going to play a team that's bigger and stronger than us. They're a little undersized so they will press and play fast and do a lot of things that we'll see in our league, but the difference being they'll be stronger. But that's good, we need to get pounded a little bit and see what happens."

Southern Miss was impressive last year, going 25-9 overall and 11-5 in Conference USA.

Junior guard Neil Watson returns after leading USM in scoring at 12.3 points and 4.4 assists per game. Senior Jonathan Mills led the team in rebounds with 6.1 per game and also returns.

With the talent Southern Miss has, Downey knows his young squad is up against it, but he admitted it will be a little special coaching against his old friend, regardless of the outcome.

"We had those conversations about what we would do and how we would handle things if we were in charge," Downey reminisced. "Our careers have gone different ways, but we have a lot of respect for each other. It will be fun.

"I know he won't take it easy on me though. If he has a chance to whip my butt, he'll whip my butt."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.

 


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