Lady Eagles lose in first round of C-USA tournament

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Junior guard Shonte Hailes dribbles the ball against North Texas. Photo by: Brad Crowe

FRISCO, Texas –The Southern Miss women’s basketball team’s season came to an end on Wednesday in the first round of the Conference USA women’s basketball tournament against ninth-seeded North Texas.

As the No. 8 seed, Southern Miss trailed 47-46 with 40 seconds remaining following a free throw from sophomore Allie Kennedy, but a subsequent missed layup attempt by junior Respect Leaphart and foul by junior Alarie Mayze allowed North Texas to come away with the 49-46 win.

“It was a game of toughness,” Southern Miss head coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “It was just a hard-fought, grit game for us, defensive aspect of the basketball. It was two teams who were really hungry, and I felt like both teams fought very hard. The biggest difference in the game was that in crunch situations I thought North Texas made shots and we missed shots.”

Both teams scored a combined 12 points in the first quarter of play. Southern Miss started the game on a 6-0 run, but North Texas scored the final six points of the quarter to tie the game up. The Mean Green carried that momentum over to the second quarter, as they outscored the Lady Eagles 20-8 and kicked off the quarter on a 5-0 run to take the lead.

Southern Miss entered halftime trailing North Texas 26-14. Junior Shonte Hailes was the team’s leading scorer in the first half with five points. The team as a whole shot 5-for-29 from the field in the first half.

The Lady Eagles flipped the script in the third quarter. Down 35-29 with 2:53 remaining in the third quarter, the team went on a quick 6-0 run to tie the game at 35-35 with 1:09 left. North Texas regained the lead before the end of the quarter on a free throw and entered the fourth quarter with a slim 36-35 lead over Southern Miss.

North Texas gained some separation again early in the final quarter of play, jumping out to a 44-39 lead in the first five minutes of the quarter. Still, Southern Miss took advantage of North Texas’s slim lead and tied the game up 45-45 on two Leaphart free-throws with 3:17 left to play. Once again, North Texas retook the lead on two free throws and eventually came away with the win to advance in the tournament.

Foul trouble proved to be a problem for Southern Miss in the fourth quarter, as the team committed 10 fouls in the period. Those fouls allowed North Texas to make 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, and each point North Texas scored in the last 5:54 of play came on a free throw shot.

Despite the loss, Southern Miss had an advantage over North Texas in many statistical categories. The Lady Eagles shot 29 percent from the field compared to 27 percent from North Texas and had nine steals, compared to six for the Mean Green. Southern Miss also outscored North Texas 22-12 in the paint.

Hailes finished with a team-high 16 points scoring for the Lady Eagles, while Mayze finished with 10 points and shot 4-for-8.

Following the game, Lee-McNelis talked about aspects of the game the Lady Eagles could have done better at.

“I believe this time of the year, three factors play into all games,” Lee-McNelis said. “Two-footers [shots] have to be made. I think you’ve got to get 50-50 balls. I think North Texas beat us on the 50-50 balls today. You’ve got to get balls that are loose balls, you have to own the 50-50 balls. I think the third thing is, it can’t be 44-42 boards [rebounding advantage]. You must dominate the glass.”

The Lady Eagles finish the 2018-2019 season with a 17-13 record, including a 9-7 conference regular season record.