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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall

Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall about bouncing back from a two overtime loss in last year’s C-USA tourney title game. 

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At the end of this month you travel to Louisville to play the Cardinals, how do you prepare to face the defending champs, and do you think that Coach Rick Pitino has forgotten your 2011 upset?! You do not prepare any differently than you do for any other game. You get your team prepared through tough, hard, physical practices. You need good film sessions where you are able to teach and learn in the film room. You have to travel and eat right on the road and get ready with the understanding that you are going to play a great team that will be well-coached in a very, very tough environment. I am sure that Coach Pitino has not forgotten about 2011. Great coaches have things that they use to drive them, just like I have not forgotten about the Memphis or Murray State losses. I am sure his team will be well-prepared and ready to play as always.

Dwayne Davis scored 16 points per game for you last year before graduating in the spring.  How are you going to fill the offensive void, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? We are not going to fill those points that Dwayne scored with just one person. I think the combination of Aaron Brown, Chip Armelin, and Jerrold Brooks will collectively score the points that we lost in Dwayne. Our expectations, as always, are to play in the conference championship game and win it, which leads to going to the NCAA tournament. We completely understand how hard that is and how tough of a road it will be to get to that point…but that is certainly our goal and hopefully we can reach it.

You played at Morehead State, how good a player were you back in the day, and how did you get into coaching? I was not a very good player. I would like to think that I was a good high school, junior college player, but as a D-1 player I was simply a complimentary guy who played without turning the ball over. I would like to think that I had some grit and toughness at the defensive end. Basketball has always been my passion and I knew that I had to be around the game the rest of my life, whether it was teaching and coaching at the high school level or coaching at the collegiate level. I probably made that decision back when I was a high school student.

In the 2000 SEC tourney as an assistant at LSU under Coach John Brady, Joe Johnson scored 21 points in a 2-PT win by Arkansas. How much fun was it to face Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” en route to your team committing a season-high 25 turnovers? That was toward the end of Nolan’s career: although they still had very good teams they were not quite as good as the National Championship teams. It certainly was not fun, although we won our share of those games.

In the 2009 OVC tourney title game as head coach at your alma mater, Steve Peterson made a pull-up jumper on the baseline (his only basket of the game) with 1.4 seconds left in a two point, two overtime win over Austin Peay.  Where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? #2: see below for #1. Steve hit that shot to put our team into the NCAA tournament for the 1st time in 25 years.

In the 2011 NCAA tourney Demonte Harper made a 3-PT shot with 4.2 seconds left in a 1-PT win over #4-seed Louisville: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? Demonte’s shot was the most clutch I have ever seen, as well as the biggest shot in Morehead State history, so I have been a part of two pretty big late-game shots.

The star of your team was two-time OVC POY Kenneth Faried, who finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder: what makes him such a great player? 1st of all, Kenneth is a phenomenal person, and because he is such a great kid it translates into how he is as a player, which first and foremost is a guy who is very coachable. He has a great work ethic and a passion to be the very best, which makes him an incredible teammate. He does not care about shots or stats: the only thing he cares about is winning games. I think all of those characteristics make Kenneth the special guy that he is. In my opinion, he will be an All-Star at some point in his career and will play 12-14 years in the NBA.

In 2012 you were hired as head coach at Southern Mississippi and in your very first year you led the team to a 27-win season (the most since the Golden Eagles became a D-1 program).  How were you able to have so much success despite having the youngest team in the country? Great assistant coaches and great players: that is just how it works in this business. I have a phenomenal staff that works endless hours. I thought that our team bought in quickly, especially our returning players. They did not resist my philosophies or ideas, which always makes the transition period with a new coaching staff a little quicker. I think that we had very good players in our program. As our season went along we gained more and more confidence, which had some guys playing at a high level. Had we not won early on and not had that confidence, then that might not have been the case.

In the 2013 C-USA tourney title game you had all five starters finish in double-digits in a two overtime loss to Memphis.  Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? # 1: the only other one would be a loss to Murray State in the 2010 OVC title game. We went to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 2011. In 2010 they beat us in a very, very tough title game, that was a hard pill to swallow. However, the Memphis game is the toughest loss as a head coach that I have ever been a part of.

In the 2013 NIT quarterfinals Tyler Haws/Brock Zylstra combined to score 48 points in a win by BYU.  What did your team learn from the school’s first two postseason wins in 25 years that you think will help you this year? I think that anytime your season continues into postseason play it is a positive. When you win your team gains a swagger or a confidence. More important than anything our team gained was the fact that our program gained a lot of momentum as far as an electric home atmosphere for those 3 games. I am very hopeful that those 3 games will carry on into this season.

JonTeitel