Sophomore Brittanny Dinkins celebrates by the student section as the Lady Eagles win in the WNIT Sweet 16 as they beat Eastern Michigan Wednesday night in the Reed Green Coliseum.
Despite the pressure of the Sweet Sixteen, the Southern Miss Lady Eagles sent Eastern Michigan home and advanced to the Elite Eight of the WNIT. This is the first time that the Southern Miss women’s basketball team has advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
The Lady Eagles shot well in the first half, 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from the three-point line. Despite their hot start in shooting, the Lady Eagles were hampered by 15 turnovers and ultimately trailed at the half, 36-32.
Things did not appear to be any better as Eastern Michigan started the half on a 10-2 run. But Alex Coyne got the Lady Eagles’ offense in an efficient gear. Southern Miss cut down on the turnovers and kept up their hot shooting.
After having 15 turnovers in the first half, the Lady Eagles played almost flawlessly and held themselves to only five turnovers in the second half.
As USM got hotter, Eastern Michigan got colder. Eastern Michigan shot 1-of-10 during the Lady Eagles’ run and allowed USM to gain their first lead of the game at the eight-minute mark.
The Lady Eagles could have panicked, but they have been in similar situations in seven of their last eight games. They went on to win five of those games. Their poise showed in the second half of this Sweet Sixteen showdown.
“When we go in at halftime and we’re down, we feel more comfortable than if we’re up because we’re known to be a second half team,” said USM sophomore forward Ashley Folsom. “We’re just more comfortable being the underdogs and down a little bit.”
The Lady Eagles did not let up either. At the two-minute mark they had stretched their lead to 68-59. With 1:26 left in the game, Eastern Michigan cranked up the pressure in desperation mode, but an Alex Coyne dagger from three-point land sent Eastern Michigan packing.
“It was definitely a turning point to get the crowd in it too,” Coyne said. “That was definitely a time when the crowd was one of the loudest (times) of the game and that gets us going.”
The Lady Eagles played some of their best basketball of the season as they had contributions from every member on the team. Tamara Jones had 23 points and led the team per usual.
Coyne played almost as if she had ice in her veins with three huge three-pointers late in the shot clock. She had 11 points, six assists and four rebounds.
“Holy smoke,” said head coach Joye Lee-McNelis. “Maybe Alex Coyne needs to have a hurt ankle forever the way she shot the ball tonight and made money shots. She was truly the money player tonight.”
Jerontay Clemons struggled in the first half, but came out firing in the second half and finished with six points, six assists and seven rebounds.
Other key Lady Eagle contributions included Brittanny Dinkins and Ashley Folsom. The duo came off the bench and provided much needed rest for Coyne, Jones and Clemons. Dinkins finished with 10 points and five boards, and Folsom finished with eight points and four rebounds.
“Folsom was unbelievable; she came in, she gave us a spark,” Lee-McNelis said. “Dinkins was a spark for us, gave us a lot of energy defensively.”
The EMU Eagles (24-13) were outscored by USM in the paint, 32-14, and outrebounded as well, 42-36. Their hot shooting in the first half did not continue and went ice cold toward the end. They went from over 40 percent shooting to just 38 percent and turned the ball over 18 times in the game.
Reed Green Coliseum was rocking as well, and the official attendance was 2,937, the second most for a Lady Eagle basketball game.
“The fans propel (the players) to change their thought process about being in the NIT,” Lee-McNelis said. “We don’t know why things happen, but it’s happened the best for us. It’s given us an opportunity to give our community a close look into what Southern Miss Lady Eagle basketball is all about.”
With the victory, the Lady Eagles improved to 25-10. Southern Miss will face the winner of the Michigan-Missouri matchup in the WNIT Elite Eight. The time and date are TBD.