HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ For a third consecutive basketball game, the third quarter has not been kind to the University of Southern Mississippi Lady Eagles.
Trailing by only three points at halftime Saturday evening at Reed Green Coliseum, USM was steamrolled 18-6 by the University of North Texas coming out of the locker room and never recovered, dropping a 62-48 Conference USA decision to the Mean Green.
USM (8-7, 0-2 C-USA) trailed by 20 with less than 5 minutes to play and only a 4-of-7 effort from beyond the 3-point arc allowed the Lady Eagles to whittle the final deficit.
“We were fortunate to get the score back to where it was,” USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “(Saturday), we did not play well. We did not play with any rhythm, and we struggled in the second half. Again.”
The Lady Eagles have started 0-2 in conference play and Saturday’s loss extended their losing streak to a season-worst three games.
“It falls back on us, on the coaching staff and on me,” Lee-McNelis said. “I’ll take the responsibility because we need to figure this out. It’s something that we’ve got to evaluate and figure out.”
USM trailed by five points after the first quarter, but pulled within 23-20 at halftime when freshman point guard Daishai Almond was fouled on the final shot of the first half and hit all three attempts.
But any momentum that might have given the Lady Eagles quickly went by the wayside.
Following in the footsteps of the University of Houston last week and Rice University Thursday, the Lady Eagles got punished in the third quarter,
UNT (9-5, 2-0) hit USM with 9-1 spurt to start the second half, taking a 34-23 lead.
Almond hit a free throw and turned a miss on the second one into a layup to get USM back within eight points, but the Mean Green went on another lopsided run, 9-0, to go up 43-26. Kennedy Gavin scored the final bucket of the period, but USM found itself starting at a 15-point deficit.
By the 4:09 mark in the fourth quarter, UNT had outscored the Lady Eagles 29-12 over the first 15:51 of the second half, leading by 20.
USM outscored the Mean Green 14-8 down the stretch, scoring more points in the final four minutes of the game than it had in the first 16 minutes over the final two periods.
Almond, a freshman point guard from Athens, Ga., came off the bench for 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. She was the lone Lady Eagle with more than seven points.
Senior wing Megan Brown had six points in the first half and then was shut out in the second. Junior points guard Shonte Hailes scored three points in just her third game back from a ankle injury.
North Texas, which won its fifth consecutive game by winning twice on the road to open C-USA play, got a career-high 25 points and eight rebounds from center Anisha George, who hit 11-of-15 shots from the floor.
Guard Terriell Bradley made just one shot from the field in 11 tries, but knocked down nine of 10 free throws to finish with 11 points.
USM will take to the road next week, stopping by Middle Tennessee State University at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Murfreesboro, Tenn., before swinging down to the University of Alabama-Birmingham for a 2 p.m. tip Saturday.