FAU men’s basketball facing must-win stretch against key rivals

BOCA RATON — In the midst of its most successful season under fourth-year coach Michael Curry, the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team again faces a must-win, three-game stretch.

Is Curry — who will set a personal-high in single-season wins (11) at FAU with the team’s next victory — thinking about the possibilities the next three games can create?

“Got Southern Miss [on Saturday night] and we’ll try to beat Southern Miss here,” Curry said after FAU’s 67-62 loss to La. Tech on Thursday. “That’s it. You win tonight and think about the other three and lose the other three, what does it matter?”

FAU (10-12, 4-6 in Conference USA) will host Southern Miss (11-12, 4-6) on Saturday before road matchups with Western Kentucky (8-1, 16-6) and Marshall (5-4, 14-8) next week. Though the Owls would make their third straight C-USA tournament under Curry if the season ended today, the upcoming three-game slate pits FAU against two teams that have had its number in recent memory.

Since Curry’s hire in April 2014, FAU is a combined 2-8 against Western Kentucky and Marshall, with both of those wins coming in the 2014-15 season against the Thundering Herd. In their last four games against Marshall, FAU has lost by an average of nearly 18 points, though three of the four losses to Western Kentucky have been within two scores.

FAU has had some success against Southern Miss, however — the Owls are 2-2 against them and have won their past two matchups – including a key win against the Golden Eagles last February during a season-changing, three-game winning streak which also included victories over FIU and Charlotte. If the Owls are serious about making their fourth year under Curry their best, taking down Southern Miss. on Saturday night (7 p.m., FAU Arena) would be a good start.

Ingram continues to improve: Though Jailyn Ingram hasn’t had the high-profile success of senior teammates Ronald Delph and Gerdarius Troutman, the sophomore forward has quietly been efficient over the past month. Ingram’s average of 9.5 points per game in C-USA play this season is more than two points above last year (7.3), as the second-year forward is hitting 41 percent of his shots compared to 39 percent as a freshman.

Ingram ranks fourth on the team in field-goal percentage since conference play began and enjoyed one of his stronger nights this season on Thursday, with his 16 points representing his most since scoring 18 against NAIA Edward Waters on Nov. 16. Thursday was only the third time this season Ingram has posted 12 or more points after doing so six times as a freshman.

“I thought he had a matchup situation in the post and we were able to get him some post-ups,” Curry said. “It was good to see the ball go through the bucket for him.”