Mississippi State’s second-half defensive effort proved to be too much for the Southern Miss Lady Eagles in an 86-42 loss to the Bulldogs on Friday night. Despite the loss, Southern Miss head coach Joye Lee-McNelis said “A star was born” in Daishai Almond.
With Southern Miss down 38-23 in the second quarter, junior point guard Shonte Hailes hit a jump shot but immediately went down grabbing for her ankle afterward.
Called on to take over for Hailes was the true freshman Almond. Other than in team’s previous game against Alcorn State, Almond had recorded less than three minutes of playing time in her last four appearances.
“I just knew I had to step up for my team and make the right plays to keep everybody on board and keep everybody sane the whole time,” Almond said.
Going back, Almond had not played in nearly a year after a knee injury kept her from playing during her senior year of high school.
“I knew we were going to lose experience in Shonte Hailes, but I had confidence in [Almond],” Lee-McNelis said. “She has played very few minutes for us up to the last game because she was as lost as a lost player could be. She had no clue and a point guard is the toughest position you play so we didn’t play her.”
Despite the small amount of playing time in the past few games, Almond was determined to better herself in any way possible, especially with the help of her dad, who is also a basketball coach, and also Coach Lee-McNelis. Almond has consistently tried to better herself mentally with film study.
“Her dad would send me a text and say, ‘Coach you don’t cut her any slack, Coach, make her better’, because he’s a coach and he gets it and so that has been what she has been,” Lee-McNelis said. “‘Coach can I come to your house and watch film?’ ‘Coach what are you doing tonight? Can I get with you in film?’ Because of that drive now we are seeing a star being born. She stayed true to the grind.”
Almond’s 15 minutes against Alcorn State were the most she had seen in over a year. In addition, part of the plan for Mississippi State was to have Almond and Hailes both on the court to battle the Bulldogs’ defensive pressure, which proved to be crucial.
The preparation paid off, as Almond led the team in scoring with 10 points and added three rebounds and two steals against the fifth-ranked team in the country.
In the game, Southern Miss stayed close in the first half with a 21-16 first quarter, but the Lady Eagles were held to just 15 points in the entire second half. The biggest killer for Southern Miss was turnovers as the Lady Eagles committed 27 turnovers. Mississippi State took advantage and scored 40 points off of turnovers in the game.
The focus now for the Lady Eagles will be dealing with Hailes’ injury, which was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, along with developing Almond at point guard moving forward.
“The process [Almond] has to learn now is she’s got to know who she’s passing to and that’s when you continue to grow as a point guard of knowing who and where to pass,” Lee-McNelis said. “I think she’ll have that opportunity to do that.”
Southern Miss will return to the court to play Blue Mountain College on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. in Reed Green Coliseum.