HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Larry Eustachy didn't do much celebrating after Southern Miss' first home victory over a ranked team in 25 years.
Instead, he looked at the gigantic grins on the faces of seniors R.L. Horton and Gary Flowers as they climbed into the stands and exchanged high fives with the student section. That was celebration enough.
"I've had my day," said Eustachy, a 55-year old veteran in his 19th season as a head coach. " ... This is their team, not mine."
USM's win over then-No. 23 Central Florida Saturday propelled the program back into national relevance. Southern Miss (14-3, 3-1 Conference USA) is receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in a decade, and considered one of the favorites to contend for the conference title.
The Golden Eagles have another crucial game on Wednesday, hosting perennial power Memphis (13-4, 2-1). It won't be easy -- the Tigers have won 14 straight in the series dating back to 2004.
"Beating Central Florida was great," Horton said. "But coach has been telling us ever since that win that we have to keep our emotions steady. Never get too high and never get too low. Just come out and play hard every single day."
Eustachy certainly knows about the highs and lows of basketball.
He faded from the national scene in 2003, when after five successful seasons at Iowa State, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament, he resigned after pictures surfaced of him drinking at college parties. He later admitted to being an alcoholic.
His comeback hasn't necessarily been storybook. He was hired by Southern Miss in 2004, and asked to turn around a program that's only been to just two NCAA Tournaments in its history. Progress has been slow. He had a 95-90 record in the first six seasons and no appearances in the NCAA or NIT tournaments.
But slowly, he's built the Golden Eagles into a contender.
Now with Flowers and Horton leading the way, Southern Miss is a deep, athletic team that has few glaring weaknesses.
Flowers, a 6-foot-8 forward, averages 21.1 points and 7.8 rebounds, mixing an array of post moves with an outside shooting touch that's allowed him to connect on more than 44 percent of his 3-point attempts (30 of 68).
Horton, a 6-foot guard, averages 12.4 points and leads the team with 17 steals.
But for Eustachy, the good news is the Golden Eagles have other options. D.J. Newbill, Josimar Ayarza, Angelo Johnson, LaShay Page and Maurice Bolden are all averaging between five and eight points per game, providing an array of almost interchangable parts that can slowly wear down opponents.
"In the past, if one of our stars had a bad game, we had no chance," Eustachy said. "But this season, we can absorb a bad game from somebody because our sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth players are good enough to help pick up the slack."
That was evident during the win against Central Florida, when Flowers shot just 2 of 10 in the first half. But the Golden Eagles didn't flinch, with a 36-35 halftime lead on the way to the convincing victory.
Five players scored in double figures, including Flowers, who recovered in the second half and finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
"Anytime you've got scorers all over the floor it makes things easier," Flowers said. "When I come out slow, we've got other guys who will fill up the stat sheet. That allows me time to regroup and find my shot."
Now comes the next task -- beating Memphis.
Compared to recent years, the Tigers have struggled, losing two of their past four including a stunning loss to SMU.
But the Golden Eagles say they won't be fooled into thinking the Tigers aren't dangerous.
"Memphis might be out of the national rankings, but they're still a powerhouse," Flowers said. "It would be monumental for our program to win this game, especially at home."