Lady Eagles soar, Joye Lee-McNelis earns 500th career win

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Photos by: Tyron Dawson

Head Coach Joye Lee McNelis picked up her 500th career win as Southern Miss women’s basketball defeated William Carey in the regular-season opener 72-42 Tuesday morning. 

Southern Miss took complete control of the game starting the 4th quarter, going on an 11-0 run and stretching the lead to 30. 

The blowout win cemented McNelis as the 85th Division One head women’s basketball coach in history to reach 500 wins and one of just 35 active coaches to hold that record.

“God’s blessed me with the opportunity to be able to be called a coach, and He gave me that opportunity when I was 28 years old,” McNelis said. “I am 59 years old, and I am still living my dream, the same dream I had at 18 years old when my dream was to play college basketball at Southern Miss.” 

Southern Miss controlled the game from the start, immediately holding a 7-2 lead in the opening minute. At the end of the first quarter, Southern Miss led 19-8. 

Lauren Gross led the way scoring for the Lady Eagles at the beginning of the game, scoring seven points and two three-pointers.

Gross earned her first start at Southern Miss after having a rough start in her time in Hattiesburg. Gross, a former transfer from North Florida had to sit out a year for redshirt rules. Last season, she tested positive for Covid two games in and then came back and sprained an MCL. 

“I have been talking to my family and my teammates, just as a shooter, you gotta have rhythm, and last year, I played two games off, two games and all that,” Gross said. “When you see a ball go in for the first time, it feels good because, you know, okay, I have got my rhythm back.” 

Gross sure seemed to have her rhythm back, as she opened the second quarter with a step-back three. 

Gross attempts a three against William Carey. (Photo/Tyron Dawson)

Southern Miss also got a significant contribution from sophomore Melyia Grayson, as she had nine points in the second quarter alone. The Lady Eagles had 14 in the paint in the first half compared to the ten by the Crusaders. However, Grayson took a hit in the neck at the end of the second half and was rested for most of the game.

Grayson’s high of 13 points at halftime helped give Southern Miss a 38-25 lead. 

As McNelis indicated in the preseason, Southern Miss played full-court pressure for practically the entire game. Instead of wearing down Southern Miss’ defense, it had a toll on William Carey. The Crusaders turned the ball over 27 times, with six times being in the third quarter when the Lady Eagles started to take control of the game.

They held William Carey on a nearly five-minute scoring drought. While forcing turnovers, they cashed in fast breakpoints, holding William Carey to just six points in the third quarter. 

“I know it (the full-court pressure) looked good in the third quarter, but we have got to maintain that level of intensity.” McNelis said. “ The way that third quarter was is the way we want to play for 40 minutes.” 

Grayson led the way in scoring for the Lady Eagles at the end of the game with 16 points. Guard Brikayla Gray followed behind with 15 points in the game. 

“We had set a force turnover goal. We knew that if we came in and forced turnovers, we were going to get layups,” said Gross. “That is just our team. And so we know if we are getting steals, we are getting layups.” 

Southern Miss improves to 1-0 and will face the ULM Warhawks Saturday at 2 pm in Hattiesburg.