Senior forward Jayla King scored a career-high 30 points Friday night as the University of Southern Mississippi held off Alcorn State University in the second half to take a 72-67 victory in the opening round of the Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic at Reed Green Colisuem.
USM (4-1) led 34-25 at halftime, but the Lady Braves (3-2) cut their deficit to four points after three quarters. The Lady Eagles outscored ASU 24-23 in the final quarter to remain unbeaten in four home games.
“Jayla did a tremendous job scoring the ball for us,” USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “Despite us making a lot of mistakes down the stretch, her performance was a positive.”
USM committed 22 turnovers, compared to ASU’s 15. The Lady Eagles also failed to connect in eight attempts from 3-point range.
But USM hit 22 of 27 free throws and out-rebounded the Lady Braves 43-36.
King hit 11-of-16 shots from the floor and went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Her 30 points topped a previous career-best 27 points against Mississippi Valley State University two seasons ago. She became just the fourth Lady Eagle to score at least 30 points in game in the past four seasons.
King also tied for a team-high seven rebounds and handed out a career-high five assists.
“I knew when I was hitting the mid-post jumper that it was wide open and I felt like they weren’t guarding me,” king said. “I knew it was close game, so I had to get the ball and do something with it.
“I told coach to give me the ball. She asked me if I could score and I told her, yes, so she said we’ll run the play.”
Sophomore guard Shonte Hailes scored 16 points, including an 8-for-8 effort at the line, and has scored in double figures in each of USM’s first five games.
“We’ve challenged Jayla and Shonte,” Lee-McNelis said. “Jayla and Shonte are the two players (who) have to make it happen for us every game. Those two have to have the ball in their hands for us to be successful.”
USM junior guard Megan Brown added 10 points, four assists and three steals, while junior forward Amber Landing chipped in with six points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
ASU got 24 points from guard Tia Sanders, who went 6-of-8 from 3-point range. Forward Miracle Rushing posted a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds and guard Alexus Freeman had 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals.
USM will face Alabama State University at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Hornets (1-4) lost to Stephen F. Austin University (3-1) Friday 77-50 in the Thanksgiving Classic’s other opening game.