The Southern Miss Lady Eagles (15-7, 8-3 C-USA) take on the Florida International Panthers (3-18, 0-10 C-USA) Thursday, Feb. 12, in Miami, Florida, and will try to stay hot after winning their last three games.
The Lady Eagles beat the top two teams in Conference USA in Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State then UAB to solidify the third spot in the Conference USA standings. However, if Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State both drop a game, there would be a three-way tie for first.
The Lady Eagles cannot afford to drop a game now; every game counts. They survived a poor shooting performance against UAB and used spectacular defense to overcome a potential let down game, 44-39.
That has been the theme for the Lady Eagles this season—play great defense to open up their offense and it has been a success so far. If they want to take the next step and take the Conference USA crown, they will need a better half court offense.
Young point guard Alex Coyne will have to lead them as she plays with a lot of tenacity and although it does not show up on the stat sheet, she is the X-factor for the Lady Eagles.
Jerontay Clemons and Tamara Jones, both of whom average double digit points per game, will provide a scoring punch, but role players like Brooke Rhodes, Voche’ Martin and Kierra Jordan need to step up on the offensive end.
Rhodes is an efficient player. She is second in three-point percentage and fourth in three pointers made on the team. However, she does not take enough shots and is often too selfless and needs to take more shots and along with Martin.
Martin is a rebounding machine; however, she does not capitalize on her size like she should. Standing at 6-feet, 3-inches, Martin towers over most other centers in Conference USA and can easily snatch up offensive rebounds and put them back up for easy points.
The Lady Eagles are disgustingly good on defense, but they need to hit their shots when Coyne finds them an open look. This would be the perfect game to hone their half court offense into a more deadly weapon.
Head coach Joye Lee-McNeils knows it is their weakness, but also knows her Lady Eagles are capable. They cannot afford to have an off shooting night anymore now that they are in the last stretch of the season.
After shutting down MTSU’s Cheyenne Parker and Olivia Jones, the Lady Eagles should have no problem solving the FIU Panthers. They simply need to keep playing the same way they have all season on defense to shut down the Panthers’ offensive attack.
The key factor in the game might not even be offense or defense for the Lady Eagles, but rebounding. FIU does not rank ahead of the Lady Eagles in very many statistical categories, but they do lead them in rebounding.
FIU pulls down 41.7 rebounds a game to USM’s 37. 6. That could provide the struggling Panther offense with second chance points and make the game a lot closer than it should be.
This game will be a test for the Lady Eagles and they will have to play their A-game to pull it out. However, if they improve their offense enough to match their defense, they will be a dangerous team and be a serious contender to make the Women’s NCAA Tournament.
Tipoff for the game against FIU is at 5 p.m.