USM victorious in regular season finale, 72-63

Brittny Norris attempts to pass the ball to Respect Leaphart against Louisiana Tech on Mar. 3 in Reed Green Coliseum. Cam Bonelli/Printz

With a chance to earn a first- round bye and favorable seeding in the C-USA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Southern Miss (21 – 9, 13 – 5 C-USA) overcame a slow first quarter start to defeat the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters (17 – 12 ,12 – 6 C-USA) on Friday night at Reed Green Coliseum.

Besides earning the win and a first round bye in the tournament, the game was also notable for being the final home game for senior players Brittanny Dinkins, Tajanay Veiga, Lashyra Cotton and Brittny Norris.

“We’re going to enjoy this [win] tonight,” said Head Coach Joye Lee- McNelis. “It was a night to bid our seniors farewell at Reed Green, and they need to enjoy time spent with their families that are in town.”

The Lady Eagles struggled offensively to start the game. Five Lady Eagle turnovers and a 37.5 field goal percentage contributed to their 21 – 14 deficit at the end of the first quarter.

Southern Miss slowly chipped away at the La. Tech lead during the second quarter, regaining the lead off of a Lashyra Cotton jumper with 1:50 left to play in the half. The lead was short-lived, however, as a layup by Lady Techster guard Kierra Anthony with eight seconds remaining would tie the game 33 – 33 heading into halftime.

In the second half of the game, the Lady Eagles took control of all phases. The team scored first to start the third quarter and never trail in both the third and fourth quarters, scoring 39 second-half points and holding off a late La. Tech rally to end the season on a seven-game winning streak.

Despite their first-quarter offensive struggles, the Lady Eagles ended the game on a more positive note, converting 51 percent of their field goals and 64 percent of their free throw shots on the night.

Freshman Respect Leaphart, coming off the bench for the Lady Eagles, scored a career-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds on the night.

“I went back to what I do and got excited,” Leaphart said. “I got comfortable and had a lot of confidence in myself.”

Two other Lady Eagles had double-digit scoring nights. Dinkins and Megan Brown each finished the contest with 12 points apiece.

The Lady Eagles earned the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament with their win against La. Tech. The C-USA Women’s Basketball Tournament will begin Mar. 8 and conclude with the championship game on Mar. 11. All games will be played in Birmingham, Ala.