The Lady Eagles’ run through the Women’s National Invitation Tournament finished fast with a first round contest against Little Rock, in which Southern Miss was put away late due to an offense that just could not produce, 72-62.
“I thought we played tired all night, honestly,” said Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis. “We couldn’t press. We didn’t play with urgency. I thought we played very sluggish.”
Senior Brittanny Dinkins got going early in the game in a sequence where she hit a fadeaway jumper at the free throw line, then hit a deep trey to force a Little Rock timeout. Those were just five of her 15 first-half points, asserting her dominance early.
“She’s truly made big plays,” Lee-McNelis said. “Big-time players make big-time plays. We’re definitely going to miss her for sure.”
The Lady Eagles and the Trojans went into halftime in a relative deadlock at 35-33, with Southern Miss leading the way. Both teams had the same amount of turnovers and were also nearly matched in rebounds, steals and assists.
“When you play this time of the year, there’s such a mental side of it,” Lee-McNelis said. “The thing that makes Little Rock so hard to guard is the set stuff that they run. It was very difficult in preparation for them.”
The Trojans shot 50 percent from the field, including 1-of-4 from three-point range in the first half, then finished up shooting 54 percent from the field on the night.
Three Lady Eagles scored in double figures guiding the Southern Miss offense, but it was not enough. Dinkins led with 19 points and guards Megan Brown and Keri Jewett-Giles followed with 13 and 16 points, respectively.
As a team, Southern Miss shot 39 percent from the field, including 4-of-12 from three-point range. The starting lineup combined to shoot 18-of-46 from the field and only shot a combined eight three-pointers on the night.
“I think we were little stagnant, to be honest, on getting started offensively and I think that came from us being sluggish defensively because that’s how our offense is generated,” Brown said. “I think it just translated kind of sluggish on the offensive end.”
Although even in most categories, the late possessions proved pivotal into turning the tide in the favor of Little Rock.
“The final three minutes of the game… we did not execute and they did and that’s when they busted it open,” Lee-McNelis said. “We turned the ball over, we missed shots at the rim [and] we let them get by us off the bounce. I thought our mental errors definitely gave them opportunities.”
Late in the game, Southern Miss was not able to capitalize on easy buckets, shooting 4-of-16 from the field in the fourth quarter combined with four turnovers.
All in all, the Lady Eagles were not able to capitalize on home-court advantage in the opening round of the WNIT, falling 72-62 to Little Rock. Having one six-foot tall player is a common theme to what this team had to go through, including Lee-McNelis’ midseason diagnosis, propelled this team to prominence on all that they had to go through even though their season is coming to an end.
“What a year, unbeilable year. This group is resilient. We have played with so much heart and so much selflessness. We’ve made sacrifices and there’s been so much give and take. If you would’ve asked me in September if we would’ve won 23 games, I would’ve told you that you were crazy.”