HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ As the University of Southern Mississippi women’s basketball team learned early Saturday evening, defensive pressure giveth, but it also taketh away.
USM’s full-court pressure at the beginning of the second half allowed the Eagles to get back into their Conference USA contest with visiting Western Kentucky University at Reed Green Coliseum.
But when the Lady Hilltoppers returned the favor with full-court pressure and half-court traps, USM repeatedly turned the ball over, denying the Eagles their own opportunities or leading to a slew of easy WKU baskets.
The result: After leading by as little as four points in the third quarter, the Lady Hilltoppers ran away to their sixth consecutive victory, 81-65.
“You’ve got to value the ball and be able to get the ball from one side of the court to the other,” USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “The thing that’s killing us, absolutely killing us, is our turnover, especially turnovers in the post.”
And, yet, the Eagles did just that, turning the ball over 25 times, leading directly to 24 WKU points. Eight turnovers came in the latter part of the third quarter, when USM lost contact with WKU for good on its way to a seventh consecutive loss .
“We just can’t have that,” Lee-McNelis said.
The Lady Hilltoppers came up with 14 steals, including a career-high eight from their iron woman, senior guard Whitney Creech.
Creech played all 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and handing out 11 assists, backing a 26-point effort from senior guard Dee Givens (10-of-15 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from beyond the 3-point line).
“Those two, Creech and Givens, those are the difference makers for them,” Lee-McNelis said.
For a third consecutive game, USM’s difference maker, injured senior point guard Shonte Hailes, did not play.
“You can have your most outstanding performer and you can have your most valuable player, and hands down, Shonte Hailes is our MVP,” Lee-McNelis said. “We miss her.”
WKU (16-6, 8-3 C-USA) led by seven points after a six-point first quarter from the Eagles (11-11, 3-7).
The Lady Hilltoppers scored the first five points of the second quarter to open a 12-points lead, but on three occasions, the Eagles got back within seven points, the last on a 3-pointer by Allie Kennedy with 4 minutes, 18 seconds, before halftime that made the score 26-19.
But WKU outscored USM 10-5 down the stretch to take a 12-point lead into halftime, 36-24.
USM came out a-swarming to open the second half, using its pressure to spark an 8-0 run that got the Eagles within 36-32.
Consecutive baskets by WKU pushed the lead back to eight points, but buckets by senior forward Respect Leaphart and senior wing Alaire Mayze left USM down just four points again, 40-36, about 4 ½ minutes before the end of the quarter.
But after a timeout, WKU came out firing, scoring on seven consecutive possessions, while also turning up the pressure to create USM turnovers. After three periods, the Lady Hilltoppers led by 14, and USM got closer only twice, moving within 12 to start the fourth quarter.
Leaphart had 16 points and six rebounds for USM, while Mayze added 14 popints and three assists. Sophomore guard Daishai Almond scored six points, handed out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy gave WKU 11 points and nine rebounds.
USM hits the road for a two-game swing through Florida. First stop: Florida Atlantic University at 6 p.m. Thursday in Boca Raton, Fla.