What’s next for the Lady Eagles in the postseason and 2019-2020?

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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 ended its Conference USA tournament appearance with a loss on March 13 in the first round against North Texas. Despite the loss, the program is set to participate in a postseason tournament and will return a wealth of experience and players from this season in 2019-2020. 

Redshirt senior Megan Brown is currently the only player the Lady Eagles are set to lose this offseason. Brown was a solid and important force in the Southern Miss starting lineup for the last three seasons, as she started 30 games this past season, 30 in 2017-18 and 34 in 2016-2017. The guard also was second on the team in minutes per game, averaging 29.5, points per game with 9.5 and a .860 three-point percentage mark

Following the loss to North Texas, head coach Joye Lee-McNelis talked about Brown’s impact on the team.

“She’s the counselor of our team,” Lee-McNelis said. “She is someone that walks in your life and impacts it and leaves footprints along the way.”

Brown’s presence on and off the court is sure to be missed by the team, but there are a few younger players who may be able to fill the void, particularly Daishai Almond, Allie Kennedy and Kelsey Jones.

Almond averaged 11.7 minutes per game, mostly off of the bench. The freshman broke out with a 10-point, two steal performance against a nationally-recognized Mississippi State squad. Almond followed that performance up with double-digit scoring performances against conference opponents North Texas and Louisiana Tech (twice) later in the season.

During her sophomore campaign in 2018-19, Kennedy was another major contributor off the bench for Southern Miss. Kennedy averaged 15.1 minutes per game in 28 appearances. Kennedy was also third on the team with 25 three-pointers and 23 assists. Look for Kennedy to contribute more in minutes and statistically in 2019-2020.

Kelsey Jones is also another intriguing younger player on the roster who will possibly be a centerpiece in the frontcourt on next year’s squad. After redshirting in 2017-2018, Jones appeared in 29 games in 2018-2019, all as a reserve. Still, Jones averaged 7.8 points-per-game, had eight double-digit scoring games and was the team leader with 145 total rebounds.

If Jones can continue to make strides and take the next step in her redshirt sophomore campaign, then the Lady Eagles will have a deep and experienced frontcourt next season.

While much talk will be focused on the younger contributors heading into next season, the Lady Eagles also return a veteran core. Leading that core will be Shonte Hailes. During her junior campaign, Hailes was the unquestioned leader of the team statistically. In 28 games, all starts, Hailes averaged a team-high 32.2 minutes-per-game, 12.7 points-per-game and 123 total assists. Next season, Hailes will have to continue to show consistency on the court all season while being a leader on the floor for the team.

Behind Hailes is a quartet of fellow juniors who are set for their senior campaigns. Guard Camille Anderson and center Amber Landing were redshirt juniors in 2018-2019, while Alarie Mayze and Respect Leaphart were true juniors.

Mayze averaged 7.7 points-per-game and had a team-high 62 steals in 30 starts and should be a key contributor once again in the starting five. Landing started 26 games at center and gives the team a 1-2 punch at the center position along with Jones.

“I think we return a really core group of players,” Lee-McNelis said. “We saw Kelsey Jones and we saw Daishai Almond really grow as true freshmen. Camille Anderson being a first-year player for us, again, you saw some growth in her as well. I think those three players in particular were first-year players for us that really impacted us in that run. They were true difference makers, and I think them returning with Alarie Mayze, Respect Leaphart, Shonte Hailes, Amber Landing, that crew is a pretty good group to return. Again, I think the biggest thing is, who’s going to lead this team? Megan Brown is gone.”

With a mix of under and upperclassmen returning, another big question heading into next season is if the program can improve its overall and conference win total. The program is now two seasons removed from a 23-11 record and a WNIT appearance in 2016-17.

For the team to eclipse the 20-win mark again in 2019-2020, the team must improve offensively in the scoring department. In a span of four games from Dec. 30-Jan. 10, the team did not eclipse 50 points in each game, all losses. While the team did average 62.6 points-per-game overall, they need to improve on that average and avoid long losing streaks in order to improve on the 17-13 record they had in 2018-2019.

Still, the season is not quite over yet for the Lady Eagles. The team accepted an invite to the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) and will host Nicholls State at 6 p.m. on Thursday.