HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ University of Southern Mississippi women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis did a slow boil along the Lady Eagles’ sideline Saturday afternoon as she watched a substantial, fourth-quarter lead dwindle to single digits.
And while USM never was in any real danger of falling to Faulkner University at Reed Green Coliseum, Lee-McNelis had seen quite enough of the late-game lack of execution and sloppiness that had cost the Lady Eagles in earlier losses to the University of Houston and Tulane University.
“We don’t carry out our job, and that’s where we have to grow,” Lee-McNelis said after USM’s 71-59 victory over the visiting Eagles. “We’ve talked about it at practice. We talked about it before games. We’ve pointed out while we’re in film.
“It’s something that we’ll have to keep talking about.”
The Lady Eagles (8-3) scored a season-high 38 points in the first half against their National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ competition, leading 38-25 at halftime.
USM was up 56-41 after three quarters and held an 18-point lead, 59-41, early in the fourth quarter.
But Faulkner, who was treating the game as an exhibition, came storming back behind the 3-ball, pulling within 63-54 on back-to-back 3-pointers by junior forward Channing Gafford with 4 minutes, 10 seconds, left to play.
USM senior guard Shonte Hailes answered with a 3-pointer with 3:07 left in the game and senior forward Respect Leaphart scored four of the Lady Eagles’ final five points to keep Faulkner at bay.
Faulkner wound up with a 37-36 rebounding edge and knocked in 11 treys to stay in the hunt.
“We gave up way too many 3-balls,” Lee-McNelis said.
USM sophomore forward Kelsey Jones finished with a season-high 20 points, Hailes added 17 and Leaphart scored 10 points.
“(Jones) did a great job of taking advantage in certain sets,” Lee-McNelis said. “I’m proud of the way she scored the basketball.”
Hailes had three rebounds and five assists, sophomore point guard Daishai Almond added four assists and two steals and senior guard Alarie Mayze finished with eight points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
USM had 20 assists on 28 baskets and came up with 12 steals.
Faulkner got 13 points and three, 3-pointers from Gafford, 12 points and five assists from junior guard Ashlyn Adkins and nine points and 10 rebounds from sophomore forward Angela Grant.
USM will open Conference USA play at 4 p.m. on Jan. 4, when the Lady Eagles welcome Louisiana Tech University to Reed Green Coliseum.