After upsetting first place Western Kentucky, Southern Miss (15-14, 7-9) lost its final game of the season to Florida International (8-21, 5-11), 74-70.
“FIU came out and played their best,” Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “They played unbelievable. They did not make the tournament, that’s all they had to do. We tried to tell our team that. We talked about that multiple times. This is their championship and this how they are going to show up and play. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain to go out feeling good about themselves.”
The Lady Eagles started the game off slow and trailed at the end of the first quarter 20-13.
Southern Miss opened the second quarter with a 7-3 run and cut the lead to 23-22. However, FIU responded with a 7-0 run to keep the lead. As the half closed the Lady Eagles closed the deficit to 38-34.
Senior Jayla King scored 11 points in the first half and junior Megan Brown had 10 points to lead the Lady Eagles.
Southern Miss outscored FIU 18-8 in the third quarter and broke out a 12-2 run that gave the Lady Eagles a 52-46 lead.
“We did not play with a lot of energy,” McNelis said. “I just thought mentally we gave in. We challenged them hard at halftime. We challenged them hard in timeouts. We just could not give a response.”
FIU responded with 28 points in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Eagles nearly sent the game into overtime. Sophomore Shonte Hailes almost tied the game but unfortunately missed the layup. Hailes then fouled and sent FIU to the free throw line which secured the Panthers’ win.
King led the team with 21 points which put her over 1,000 career points. After being held scoreless in the first half Hailes finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“It felt good to hit the 1,000-point mark, but it was bittersweet because we lost,” King said. “Our coaches told us that right now is how we define ourselves, because right now we’re stagnant and we need to get back to the Lady Eagle basketball we know how to play.”
By winning two of their last three games the Lady Eagles secured a spot in the conference tournament. They will enter the tournament as the eighth seed and will face ninth seeded University Texas at El Paso at 11 a.m. on March 7.