HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi Lady Eagles saw the majority of a 21-point lead disappear in the face of a furious, fourth-quarter rally by Nicholls State University Thursday night at Reed Green Coliseum.
But the Lady Eagles finally put the brakes to the Lady Colonels’ rally and made 7-of-10 free throws in the game’s final 36 seconds to pull out a 77-71 victory in the opening round of the 2019 Women’s Basketball Invitational.
“I’m very proud and say thank you to our administration for giving us this opportunity,” USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “And I’m very proud we were able to take advantage of that opportunity.”
The Lady Eagles (18-13) picked up their first postseason basketball victory since reaching the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
And with Thursday’s victory, the Lady Eagles will remain home to host a second-round WBI game, welcoming the University of North Alabama at 6 p.m. Monday.
The Lions (20-8) defeated Georgia State University Thursday 64-57 in an opening-round game.
USM built a 36-30 halftime lead against Nicholls State (20-12) into a 21-point lead, 61-40, after three quarters.
But Nicholls State guard Cassidy Barrios took over the fourth quarter, as USM committed seven of its 10 turnovers.
Barrios, who would finish with a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds, scored 21 points in the fourth quarter as the Lady Colonels pulled within 65-63 with 3 minutes, 51 seconds, to play, and got within a 3-point shot of tying USM three other times down the stretch.
“They had no quit in their hearts, that’s for sure,” Lee-McNelis said.
With USM holding a 70-67 lead with 40 seconds to play, a floater in the lane by point guard Shonte Hailes rimmed out. But swingman Megan Brown won the battle for the ball, and in the process, was fouled.
Brown, who finished with a team-high 18 points, four rebounds and four assists, knocked down both free throws to give the Lady Eagles a five-point cushion.
From there, USM made 5-of-8 free throws down the stretch, with Brown hitting another 3-of-4.
“It’s been quite a while since Megan Brown had a big game at Reed Green, but she sure did (Thursday),” Lee-McNelis said.
Hailes finished with 16 points and four assists, Camille Anderson added 15 points and swingman Alarie Mayze had 10.
Nicholls State forward Chrystal Ezechukwu added 10 points for the Lady Colonels.