Tyndall keeps Southern Miss among CUSA elite
When Donnie Tyndall was introduced as the new basketball coach at Southern Mississippi, most were pleased that the school was able to attract a young coach that had led unheralded Morehead State to two NCAA Tournament appearances.
The one exception: senior guard Dwayne Davis.
But Tyndall and Davis have formed the unlikely foundation of the Golden Eagles. Davis played for Tyndall briefly at Morehead State in 2008 before a falling out led Davis to transfer. Now they're back together and Davis is the leading scorer for the Golden Eagles, who are riding a nine-game winning streak and eyeing a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
"There are a lot of good things happening for this program right now," Tyndall said. "We've had a few issues, but for the most part, I've got a really good bunch of guys. This is why you get into coaching and this is what makes it fun - playing important, meaningful basketball games in the last half of the season."
Southern Miss (17-4, 6-0 Conference USA) is preparing for a road game against Alabama-Birmingham (9-12, 1-5) on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles won 25 games last season and made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991, but coach Larry Eustachy left for Colorado State in April.
Considering Tyndall wasn't hired until nearly May, he didn't have much time to replenish a roster that lost several of its major contributors. It looked like the new Southern Miss coach might need a couple seasons to rebuild.
Instead, it's only taken a couple months.
"Some might say we're just really good at evaluating talent, but nope, we're just lucky," Tyndall said with a laugh. "We signed some kids over the summer, and doing things that late is always dangerous, but we hit on every single one of them."
Three of those late junior college signees - Daveon Boardingham, Michael Craig and Jerrold Brooks - have become important rotation players, combining with a nucleus of returners like Neil Watson and Jonathan Mills, who were instrumental to the Golden Eagles' success last season.
"(Tyndall) didn't hand anything to anybody," Watson said. "I had to earn my position, earn my spot as the captain. That was the same for everybody. We knew immediately this was the guy we had to play for and we had to do things his way. At the beginning, we clashed a little. But like every good relationship between coach and player, we grew."
But it's been Davis that's turned into the Golden Eagles' most important player - and the unlikely reunion with Tyndall has made it all the more rewarding.
Davis, who is from Philadelphia, signed with Morehead State as a freshman in 2008, but lasted just one semester under Tyndall because of various issues, including poor work habits on and off the court. Since then, he's bounced around at two different junior colleges before signing with Eustachy prior to the 2011-12 season.
He had to sit out last season because of academic issues, and then Eustachy left. Davis admitted he was stunned when he learned the new coach's name.
"I was like `Here we go again,'" Davis said. "But this couldn't have worked out any better. From the moment we sat down and talked the first time, I knew this was going to be different. It's been a blessing."
The respect is mutual. Tyndall said it was obvious from the first meeting that Davis had grown tremendously during four years.
"He's really blossomed as a basketball player and a young man," Tyndall said. "He's lost weight, he takes the game more seriously and works at it, and he's on track to graduate in the spring. Now when I see him flash that big ol' grin, it's easy to smile back. It's a great story."
Davis has been a perfect fit for Tyndall's style, which requires plenty of defensive pressing and versatility on offense. He's averaging a team high 13.2 points on nearly 50 percent shooting, including 44.3 percent from 3-point range. He's also second on the team in rebounding and fourth in assists.
This will be his only year of Division I basketball, but he's determined to make the most of it.
"If I've learned anything, it's been patience," Davis said. "The easy thing would have been to quit, but I've just fought through everything. Now I try to stay consistent."
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