USM must overcome size deficiencies

The Lady Eagles huddle before a free throw at Reed Green Coliseum on Nov. 8 against Mississippi College.

The Lady Eagles knew that they would have to struggle for points to keep the Lady Bulldogs from getting second-chance points. With a decisive size advantage against them, the Lady Eagles were going to have to take every possession seriously. 

“They’re bigger, faster, stronger and I think everybody can see that today how much stronger they are than us,” said Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis. “We look like ants out there compared to them. But, I’ll tell you, our team played with a lot of heart.”

That heart led to a 72-50 beating from the in-state rivals, but the score was a lot closer than indicated. The Lady Eagles held Mississippi State to only 1-of-11 from three-point range, and turned it over just 16 times.

But, the lack of size for Southern Miss was evident, especially in two categories: second-chance points and offensive rebounding.

Mississippi State was able to score 16 percent of their field goals (12 points) off of 16  total offensive rebounds. The big girl in the middle, Chinwe Okorie standing at six-feet, five-inches, scored an efficient 8-of-10 from the field and grabbing nine rebounds. An intricate part of the Lady Bulldog gameplan, Lee-McNelis knew she would get a lot of touches.

“We were trying to limit her touches and obviously there were numerous times, numerous times, that we had guards who were guarding people we were not supposed to guard because they weren’t shooters,” Lee-McNelis said. “It happened numerous times in numerous situations.”

The Golden Eagles were not able to limit the paint points, with 44 of the Lady Bulldogs’ 72 points coming inside the restricted area. It also did not help to stave off the onslaught of paint points as two starters, Brittanny Dinkins and Megan Brown, fouled out in the clutch.

“Each and every individual player must be able to reflect themselves on the things that they’ve got to do to truly make a difference and make things happen for us,” Lee-McNelis said. “We just could never get over that hump. I’m proud of how we fought. We just got to continue to to sharpen the mental aspect of it.”

The Lady Eagles were led by Dinkins who scored 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field, including five rebounds and two assists. No other Lady Eagle scored in double figures as the team shot 35 percent from the field.

The “Mighty Mites,” as Lee-McNelis calls them, have only one player who played that is at least six-feet tall in freshman Respect Leaphart. Mississippi State has seven.

“We’ve got to learn through the flow of the game, critical moments, we’ve got to execute,” Lee-McNelis said. “We continued to put pressure on our defense. We’ve got to learn to capitalize when opportunities present themselves.”

The Lady Eagles did not play a bad game per say, but the decisive size advantage will be something that is not just evident against the Lady Bulldogs, but as the season wanes on.