The Southern Miss women’s basketball team opened the 2016-2017 season with three straight wins at home over New Orleans, William Carey and Alabama State in an effort to rebound from a disappointing 14-16 record last year.
Prior to last season’s eighth-place C-USA finish, Coach Joye Lee-McNelis’ Lady Eagles had finished back-to-back seasons with over 25 wins. Also, the 2015-2016 Lady Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s NIT in 2015, the farthest any Lady Eagles team has made it in postseason play.
Lee-McNelis, now in her 13th season as head coach of Southern Miss, led the Lady Eagles to a 70-43 win over Alabama State in the Reed Green Coliseum on Thursday night. So far, Southern Miss has forced more than 20 turnovers in each win. McNelis said that this defensive pressure will be key if the Lady Eagles wish to be successful this year. In the first half of Thursday’s game, the Southern Miss defense was lacking in intensity.
“The first half, we kind of stunk it up,” Lee-McNelis said. “We did not play in rhythm. We did not play in an attack mentality at all. We only had two points off of transition offense, and we’re not going to win many ballgames that way. We just can’t.”
Southern Miss turned up the intensity in the second half to pull away from Alabama State and clinch its third win.
“The second half was a tale of a different half,” Lee-McNelis said. “We played with much more intensity and we went out with a different mindset, and I think that was truly the difference in the ballgame.”
On Sunday, the Lady Eagles faced the first true test of the season at Delvin Fieldhouse in New Orleans against a talented Tulane team.
“They’re very, very good,” Lee-McNelis said. “They’re a very disciplined team. They’re not going to turn the ball over. We’ve got to really kind of cause a lot of havoc and play kind of wild, to be honest with you, defensively and with an attack mentality.”
Head coach Lisa Stockton has led Tulane to seven straight 20-win seasons and appeared in the NCAA tournament or WNIT in every season during that span. On Sunday, the Green Wave defeated Southern Miss 86-67, giving Southern Miss its first loss of the season.
The Lady Eagles cannot let a road loss to a good team affect their mental approach going forward. McNelis appears to have the program headed in the right direction, and Southern Miss should be a much-improved team from last year. Most of the Lady Eagles’ scoring from last season has returned, including senior guards Brittanny Dinkins and Brittny Norris. Southern Miss also added a pair of transfers and a couple true freshmen.
“Our goal is to just get better every day,” Lee-McNelis said. “Every day has got to be a key day in us getting better. We’ve got to continue to make strides, mental and physical preparation.”
Southern Miss returns to action on Friday in the Reed Green Coliseum against Alcorn State as part of the annual Lady Eagles Thanksgiving Classic. Southern Miss will also host Southeast Missouri State and Louisiana-Lafayette in the tournament.