The University of Southern Mississippi women’s basketball team got about what expected from its season-opening game Friday afternoon with cross-town rival William Carey University.
Sophomore guard Shonte Hailes scored 18 points, senior forward Jayla King added 16 points and sophomore forward Respect Leaphart came off the bench for 11 more as the Lady Eagles ran away from the Lady Crusaders 82-44 at Green Coliseum.
USM (1-0) came up with 22 steals and forced Carey (0-2) into 36 turnovers while holding the Lady Crusaders to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor.
But the Lady Eagles also looked like a team still trying to blend eight newcomers into the mix. USM committed 19 turnovers and struggled with their shooting touch in every area of the floor.
The Lady Eagles shot 43 percent from the first, made just 6 percent of their 3-point attempts (1-of-15) and connected on just 59.1 percent of their free throws (13-of-22).
“There were a lot of positives, and there were a lot of things that we need to work on,” USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “I thought we saw some good things with our team and a lot of things that we need to continue to work on.
“When you have as many young players as we have, you have to make strides and there’s only one way we can go, and that’s up.”
Lee-McNelis said returning veterans such as King, Hailes and senior guard Meagan Brown will be counted upon heavily as the Lady Eagles go through their growing pains.
“They’re going to have to show up every day for every second in every game and provide that leadership that is going to help us,” Lee-McNelis said. “As we saw, with our young players, I mean we didn’t even know our inbounds plays, and we’re limited with what we can do offensively because we simply forget.”
King, who started every game last season, said she and the returners knew what would be expected of them this season.
“We were kind of preparing for it last year because we knew (standout guard Brittanny Dinkins and forward Lashyra Cotton) were leaving, so we knew had to lead this year,” said King, who had six rebounds, three steals and two assists Friday. “It’s just been a lot of teaching going on out there on the court.”
The eight new faces constitute the largest incoming group of Lady Eagles since the 2013-14 season. But one lesson that can’t be taught is height, and five of the newcomers stand 6-foot or taller, giving USM more size in the post then it’s had in years.
The Lady Eagles outrebounded Carey by 22 boards and came down with more offensive rebounds (30) than defensive rebounds (24). USM outscored the Lady Crusaders 56-10 around the basket, and while part of that could be attributed to easy baskets in the transition game, the tall timber certainly helped the cause in the paint.
Junior Amanda Landing, a 6-foot-4 transfer from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock who sat out the 2016-17 season, led the Lady Eagles with nine rebounds to go with six points, a block, a steal and an assist.
Six-foot Kennedy Gavin, a freshman from Petal High School, added eight rebounds to go with six points and two steals.
Six-foot-three junior center Kyle Felton, a transfer from Jones County Junior College, started the game and finished with six points, three rebounds, three steals and an assist.
The 6-foot Leaphart grabbed six rebounds and also had a steal and an assist. Six-foot freshman Imani Carter had a rebound and a steal in her two minutes on the court.
“It adds another dimension to our game, definitely,” Lee-McNelis said.
Another newcomer, freshman guard Allie Kennedy, played 23 minutes off the bench, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds. She handed out a game-high six assists and came up with a steal.
Hailes, a Conference USA All-Freshman team selection last season, also had three rebounds, three assists and five steals. Brown, who like King, also started all 34 USM games last season, had eight points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal.
USM led Carey 19-11 after the first quarter and then blew the game open outscoring the Lady Crusaders 27-11 in the second period for a 46-22 halftime lead. The lead ballooned to 65-31 after three quarters and the Lady Eagles led by as many 43 points in the fourth quarter.
Carey, which lost to USM for the 14th time in 15 meetings, got 10 points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench from senior guard Latia Pullum.
Junior guard Shantavis Hughes of Hattiesburg scored nine points and handed out two assists for the Lady Crusaders.
WCC sophomore forward Tamia Stinson of Hattiesburg scored six of her eight points at the foul line, while freshman guard Lachan Terrell of Hattiesburg grabbed three rebounds in her eight minutes on the court.
USM will return to Green Coliseum at 6 p.m. Tuesday to welcome Tulane University. Carey will host Xavier University at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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