HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ The University of Southern Mississippi Lady Eagles hung tough Thursday night with one of preseason favorites in Conference USA women’s basketball.
But in the end, Rice University was too tall and too poised, overcoming a five-point halftime deficit to overtake USM 58-4 in the C-USA opener for both teams.
The Lady Owls (10-3, 1-0 C-USA) opened the second half on a 16-1 run and eventually outscored the Lady Eagles (8-6, 0-1) by 13 points in the third quarter to take an eight-point cushion into the final quarter.
USM was down 12-6 after one period. But the Lady Eagles used their quickness to push the ball in transition and create turnovers on defense in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Owls 20-9 to take a 26-21 halftime lead.
But Rice seemingly took a deep breath and was able to keep its cool against USM’s pressure afterwards, setting up short-range baskets or drawing fouls and converting at the free-throw line.
“They came out after halftime and were a little more focused than we were,’ USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said.
USM hung tough, with a basket by freshman center Kelsey Jones pulling the Lady Eagles within 51-45 with 1 minute, 42 seconds, to play.
But Rice freshman guard Jasmine Smith hit a 3-pointer out of the deep right corner with the shot clock running down to bump the Lady Owls’ lead back to nine points with 1:13 to play.
“We played hard,” Lee-McNelis said. “There’s no question, we played hard. But we just didn’t play smart, consistently.”
Nancy Mulkey, the Lady Owls’ 6-foot-9 transfer center from Oklahome, scored a game-high 18 points, making 8-of-11 shots from the floor. Smith, who was 3-of-4 beyond the 3-point arc, had 15 points and four assists.
Junior guard Erica Ogwumike scored eight points, a game-high nine rebounds and game-high eight assists.
USM junior guard Camille Anderson came off the bench for 11 points and four rebounds, while Jones had nine points and four rebounds also off the sideline.
USM junior point guard Shonte Hailes (five assists) and senior swing Megan Brown (game-high nine rebounds) struggled offensively, combing to make just one of 13 shots from the floor.
“When two players you depend on like we depend on them get two points between them, you’re just not going to win,” Lee-McNelis said. “They gave us their all, but they just didn’t have it (Thursday).
The Lady Eagles will welcome the University of North Texas at 4 p.m. Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum.