Lady Eagles Advance to WNIT Quarterfinals

Junior Jerontay Clemons throws to the basket as the Lady Eagles play in the second round of the WNIT Sunday afternoon against TCU in the Reed Green Coliseum. Southern Miss wins in overtime 77-73. -Susan Broadbridge

The Southern Miss Lady Eagles defeated the TCU Horned Frogs Sunday at Reed Green Coliseum in overtime, 77-73. The Lady Eagles were down as much as 14 in the second half but overcame the deficit to advance them to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.

All I can say is the cardiac kids continue,” head coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “Unbelievable comeback and our fans were absolutely unbelievable. The crowd was fantastic when Jerontay (Clemons) put us on her back and willed us in regulation to tie that ball game up. Unbelievable.”

The first half was a back-and-forth battle that included several Lady Eagle and TCU turnovers and seven lead changes. But at the end of the half, TCU only led 23-21.

After halftime, the Lady Eagles’ turnover woes continued and allowed TCU to go on a 12-4 run to start the half. USM needed a spark.

In their first round contest, Tamara Jones was the spark that caused their comeback against Texas Southern. However, against TCU, their spark came in the form of turnovers.

TCU ended up with 20 turnovers in the game and  were ultimately its downfall. Starting midway through the second half, the Lady Eagles turned up the defense and used some fast break opportunities for easy buckets.

The 14-point deficit was quickly erased and the Lady Eagles sent the game into overtime on a 20-8 run. USM’s run did not end at regulation.

They continued their dominance and held an eight-point lead with 18 seconds remaining in the extra period. A couple of Horned Frog baskets made the score appear closer than the overtime period was.

It was a complete team win for the Lady Eagles. Four Lady Eagles scored double digits in the win and also had a key member in their lineup return after missing their first round game.

Alex Coyne’s game will not pop off the stat sheet, but her return to the lineup, despite a foot injury, was the main reason the Lady Eagles offense clicked against TCU. Coyne injured her foot in practice in the week leading up to their first round game.

Jerontay Clemons was forced into Coyne’s role for the game against Texas Southern and the Lady Eagles found a way to win without their signal caller. This time, the Lady Eagles had their point guard back and it allowed Clemons to move back to shooting guard.

The move may seem subtle, but it took pressure off of Clemons, who had rarely played point guard and allowed her to slash and penetrate and create opportunities for her teammates. Clemons finished with one of her best games of the year with 17 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and added four steals.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had one individual put her (Clemons) team on her back and find a way to win (like that),” Lee-McNelis said. “Defensively, offensively and rebounding the basketball—I’ve never coached anybody that had that kind of performance in those three areas.

Tamara Jones led the team with 19 points with Voche Martin and Brooke Rhodes adding 12 and 11 points, respectively. The win propels the Lady Eagles into the Sweet Sixteen of the WNIT where they will face Eastern Michigan.

Eastern Michigan will be the Lady Eagles’ toughest test to date. Eastern Michigan went on an eight-game winning streak before losing the MAC Championship game.

Eastern Michigan then beat Drake 80-70 in the first round and beat Tulsa 69-59 three hours after USM defeated TCU.

The Lady Eagles will host Eastern Michigan at Reed Green Coliseum Wednesday at 7 p.m.