The Lady Eagles’ basketball season ended March 10 after the team fell 85-75 to FIU in the first round of the C-USA Championship Tournament.
Southern Miss almost closed the game within three points with less than a minute remaining, but a late rush pushed the lead out of reach for the Lady Eagles.
Southern Miss trailed the entire game, but kept the score close, forcing a total of 27 turnovers and earning 29 points from the mistakes.
“I thought [at] the start they got off to probably made the statement for the game, but our team really fought back,” Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis said.
Junior Daishai Almond recorded a career-high of 22 points and added six rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Lady Eagles.
“I felt really good coming into the game,” Almond said. “I knew I had to step up for my teammates and lead them and get everyone on board. Unfortunately, we fell short in the first half. We got back in the second, but we just couldn’t finish it all the way through.”
Lee-McNelis says she was impressed with Almond’s performance, and she encourages her to prepare and improve for her senior season.
Almond was not the only top scorer, however. Southern Miss could not stop FIU’s Jiselle Thomas throughout the game as she led her team with a career-high performance of 32 points and 15 rebounds.
Southern Miss improved from a 37% shooting accuracy in the first half to 53% in the second, but slumped in its three-point shooting, which proved to be its downfall. The Panthers scored a total of thirty points from the three-point line while the Lady Eagles could only score one three point basket.
Southern Miss’s loss also reinforced a common theme throughout the season, as they lost all eleven games where they allowed opponents to score 70 or more points.
The Panthers jumped ahead to a double-digit lead in the second quarter, but the Lady Eagles cut the lead back with a run orchestrated by Almond and freshman Rose Warren. Warren’s steal and offensive rebound both led to buckets for Almond. Almond then assisted Warren to narrow FIU’s lead to 38-31 at the end of the first half.
The Panthers stretched its lead again on a 12-2 run soon after. Senior Allie Kennedy made the team’s only three at the end of the third quarter after the Lady Eagles began 0-10 from the perimeter.
An and-one play from Kennedy put the Lady Eagles back within ten early in the last quarter. Warren then scored two straight baskets from FIU turnovers. Almond closed the lead to within three, but Southern Miss did not get any closer, so the Panthers pulled away with the victory.
Lee-McNelis says that, despite her cancer diagnosis this season, she will continue to coach for the Lady Eagles next year. She says if the freshmen continue to grow and the junior class develops their skills, the team has an “unbelievably bright future”.
“Nobody fights harder than [her],” Almond said of Lee-McNelis’ decision. “She isn’t going anywhere any time soon.”
“I am really good to go. I look forward to it and look forward to the future of this program,” Lee-McNelis said.