Lady Eagles defeat Middle Tennessee
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – For the second straight year, Southern Miss found a way to advance to the championship game of the Conference USA Tournament.
Behind the efforts of a trio of Lady Eagle seniors, Southern Miss defeated No. 2 Middle Tennessee 65-53 in the semifinal, improving to 22-9. Southern Miss will play the winner of Western Kentucky and Old Dominion.
It was a sluggish start for both squads in their first appearances in Legacy Arena at the BJCC as six total points were scored in the first four minutes of play.
The slow start did not last for long for Middle Tennessee as it pieced together a 12-2 run to create a healthy gap between itself and Southern Miss. The charge was led by hometown product Shanice Cason, who drilled a pair of treys to open up the wound.
With roughly nine minutes remaining in the first frame, Southern Miss stopped the bleeding via a healthy alternation between man defense and a 2-3 zone, looking to keep the Blue Raider lead at a manageable 10 points.
After finding some defense, Southern Miss began chipping away on offense. The Lady Eagles closed the gap to four by the end of the half by utilizing its bench, where it outscored the Blue Raiders 11-0.
Following the break, Middle Tennessee, which entered the second frame nursing a slim 25-21 lead, suffered a major setback when junior forward Tianna Porter fouled out at the 16:38 mark of the second half. Sensing the vulnerability down low, Southern Miss immediately attacked the low post, utilizing senior forward Tamara Jones in the block to capitalize on the suddenly thin Middle Tennessee front court and capture its first lead of the contest.
Middle Tennessee countered with its top scoring threats, sophomore wing Olivia Jones and junior Brea Edwards. With a little under 10 minutes remaining, Edwards became an assassin, lighting up Southern Miss from beyond the arc to help Middle Tennessee regain a five-point lead.
But Southern Miss returned fire behind the efforts of reliable veteran Jones along with Mississippi native Brooke Rhodes as the senior duo jumpstarted an 18-5 Lady Eagles run at the four-minute mark to propel USM to a semifinal victory over Middle Tennessee.
USM’s Voche’ Martin and Jones each double-doubled for the Lady Eagles. Martin recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Jones put up 13 points to go with 12 boards. Sophomore Alex Coyne commanded the Lady Eagle attack, dishing out 10 assists in 39 minutes on the court.
Middle Tennessee’s Jones highlighted the Blue Raider attack as she posted a double-double (19pts/10rebs).
USM Media Relations