Southern Miss women win fifth consecutive game

Southern Miss women win fifth consecutive game
The Mississippi High School Activities Association basketball playoffs are now in the semifinal round, and eight teams from the Pine Belt are trying to play their way into championship games. (Photo source: Raycom Image Bank)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Revenge, some say, is a dish best served cold.

The University of Southern Mississippi Lady Eagles decided they would prefer their Thursday night portion piping hot.

USM shot 58 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw line to run away from Rice University 79-60 at Green Coliseum.

The Lady Eagles (19-9, 11-5 Conference USA) won their fifth consecutive game by snapping the Lady Owl's four-game winning streak.

In the process, USM avenged an eight-point loss to the Lady Owls (16-10, 7-8) on Jan. 21 in Houston. The Lady Eagles, who have won eight of their last nine games, have lost only once since.

"Who would have thought we'd have 19 wins? Nineteen!," USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. "Nobody! We're one of the shortest teams in the country. Nobody thought we'd have 19 wins.

"But we do."

And USM has its coach back on the sideline with them.

Lee-McNelis had missed three of USM's last four games while undergoing a battery of health tests after experiencing chest pains a few weeks ago.

The result of the first biopsy was sobering: cancer in the upper lobe of her left lung.

The good news was that the tumor was contained, and this week, Lee-McNelis got the better news that a biopsy on a second mass found on one of her trapezoid muscles was not cancerous, and that she would not need to undergo chemotherapy.

She also was cleared to return to her coaching duties.

Initially, Lee-McNelis tried to shrug off Thursday's return.

"I approached it like it's just another game," she said. "Maybe I've been doing this for too long, but that's what I did."

A few minutes later, Lee-McNelis admitted to tears having contemplated not being able to be with her group of young women.

"It was emotional, it was," she said. "For me not to be on the sideline with these girls, it was hard."

Senior guard Brittanny Dinkins said the team and first-year assistant Kiley Hill, who coached the three games Lee-McNelis missed, just stuck to her playbook.

"It wasn't that hard," Dinkins said. "When somebody demands excellence, that's what you're going to work toward doing. With both of them (Lee-McNelis and Hill), it's really kind of the same."

USM sophomore guard Keri Giles-Jewett tied a career-high with 23 points, while senior guard Brittany Dinkins added 16 points and senior forward Lashyra Cotton added 14 for the Lady Eagles.

Rice sophomore guard Nicole Iademarco scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds, including knocking down five 3-pointers. Junior guard Shaney Rainey added 12 points.

The Lady Owls out-rebounded USM 32-23, including a whopping 17 boards off the offensive glass.

But Rice turned the ball over 24 times, including 13 steals by the Lady Eagles. Dinkins and Giles-Jewett lead USM with four steals each.

"What about that 1-2 (defensive) punch with those two?" Lee-McNelis said. "When they get going like that, it's truly a game-changer."

USM will host North Texas University at 4 p.m. Saturday at Green Coliseum.

Owls 72, Golden Eagles 71 (OT)

HOUSTON - Owls guard Marcus Evans scored on a layup with 1 second left in overtime and the Golden Eagles missed a golden opportunity to clinch a spot in the 12-team Conference USA postseason.

USM (8-20, 5-11) led 71-70 and had possession with 10 seconds to play, but turned the ball back over to Rice (19-9, 9-6).

Florida International University was eliminated from postseason possibilities with a loss to University of Texas-San Antonio, leaving the final slot in the March 8-11 men's basketball tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, to USM or North Texas University.

With North Texas' loss to Louisiana Tech University Thursday, a USM victory would have locked up a postseason spot for the Golden Eagles.

USM trailed by as many as 17 points, including 56-39 with 13:06 left in the second half. But the Golden Eagles rallied, and a jumper by sophomore guard Cortez Edwards tied the game with 35 seconds to play, 67-67.

The Golden Eagles led throughout overtime, including a three-point edge, 71-68, after a Kevin Holland basket with 2:45 to play in the extra period.

But Rice forward Egor Koulechov scored on a layup 18 seconds later to pull the Owls back within one, and the teams fought down to the final tick of the clock before Evans decided it.

Koulechov turned in a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Evans added 16 points and guard Marcus Jackson had 10.

Senior forward Quinton Campbell led USM with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Holland added 12 points.

The Golden Eagles travel to NTU for a 2 p.m. Saturday showdown.