After his first stint in the national spotlight since a very public and humiliating resignation from Iowa State, Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy bowed out gracefully.
Kansas State defeated Eustachy's Golden Eagles 70-64 in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament — Southern Miss' first tournament appearance in 21 years — but Eustachy wasn't upset. Instead, he was grateful for the opportunity.
"We're right into the thing till the end," Eustachy said. "I'm not sure the score indicates what it was, and I think Frank would say the same thing. Really proud of our team and proud of Kansas State. I think it was a great college game. I don't think anybody left the TV till the very end."
Even though Southern Miss didn't win, the appearance completed Eustachy's comeback story. In 2003, he resigned from Iowa State after the Des Moines Register published photos of Eustachy drinking and partying with students on the Missouri campus. It revealed a battle with alcoholism that Eustachy had been waging since he was 18.
Eustachy sat out a year, dealt with his drinking problem and was given a second chance at Southern Miss. Up until this season, the only postseason appearance for the Golden Eagles under Eustachy was a 2010 College Basketball Invitational Tournament.
But this year's Golden Eagles were 25-8, their third consecutive 20-win season, and earned an at-large bid to a place 10 years ago Eustachy wasn't sure he'd see again.
"They say when you start drinking, you stop maturing. So I was basically about an 18‑year‑old for a long time and it's been a long, long time since I've had a drink," Eustachy said. "So very much more appreciative of the situation. Very much more humbled. This is as special as it gets. You're talking about the Super Bowl. You talk about the World Series. I didn't appreciate it as much, you know. I really didn't. I didn't realize how fortunate I was. God has given me a second chance."
Even if Southern Miss had won and gone on to face Syracuse, Eustachy said he didn't know a whole lot about the Orange. When center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the tournament, Eustachy said he had no idea who he was.
"You know, I don't want to sound like a fool, but I didn't really know who Melo was until somebody mentioned it yesterday," Eustachy said "Like I said, I don't watch college basketball. I see enough of it on the court. I see enough of it in games.
I like On‑Demand, you know. I like 'Law and Order.'"
In the end, it was a lack of consistency that doomed Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles made just one of their first 10 shots and five of their first 20. After taking the lead against Kansas State, USM proceeded to hit just six of its final 20 shots down the stretch.
Still, the experience meant as much to Eustachy as winning.
"OK, I got to go watch some 'Law and Order,'" Eustachy said. "This thing is over with. I really appreciate you all. I don't take it for granted."
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