Southern Miss carried over the momentum of its first conference win of the season with a dominating 88-64 Friday night win over UTSA.
The Lady Eagles set numerous season-highs as a team, which included its 88 points as well as its 36 field goals made and it’s 64.3% shooting from the field. Southern Miss’ offense was spearheaded by a three-pronged attack by Kelsey Jones and freshmen Brikayla Gray and Kahia Warmsley, who combined for 49 points.
“I thought tonight was a pretty good night for us,” Southern Miss coach Joye-Lee McNelis said. “Kelsey Jones really stepped up tonight. It’s the first game all year where she played as she did at the end of last year. I thought was that huge for us. Daisha Almond goes, and freshman Kaiha Warmsley does a great job of leading our attack. Tremendous job and scores a career-high.
Brikayala Grey, who had struggled when was in our starting lineup this past week, pressed on. She has really pushed through the challenges that she’s had. She kind of hit the freshman wall and wow 17 tonight. That’s huge for her to be able to knock that freshman wall down and get back into rhythm.”
Out the game, Southern Miss’ offense clicked immediately and opened the game with a 13-0 run against a struggling Roadrunner team. UTSA’s first bucket of the night came with 3 minutes and 36 seconds left in the first quarter. Southern Miss’ offense continued to stay explosive and built 26-4 lead at the end of the quarter.
“I think it was our best quarter of basketball we have played thus far,” McNelis said. “A lot of players played a factor into that.
“A lot of our play in that first half came off the long rebounds where they attempted shots. Then our defense created tough opportunities for them and was able to get things on the run. Our goal would be for that to continue to work and go in more quarters than just one.”
In the first quarter, Southern Miss shot 56.3% while holding the Roadrunners to just 9.6% shooting. Helping building the early lead was Warmsley, who scored all of her 11 points, which was a career-high, in the first half.
“She’s a true basketball junkie,” McNelis said. “She had struggled and was out with COVID. She has really locked in this week in practice to be a difference-maker and to really be somebody that can really change the game.
“I think she was so locked in to start the game in that two-guard spot. At that position, she has to score more for us, and she took ownership of that. She was able to get to the rim and hit the 3-ball behind the ball screen and really just played without a lot of intensity.”
Along with Warmsley, Jones made her presence known early on as she scored 11 of her 21 points in the first half.
UTSA found life in the second quarter and managed to outscore Southern Miss 23-18 and narrow the lead to 13 after trailing as much as 22 points in the first quarter. Despite the Roadrunners’ success, the Lady Eagles held a 44-27 lead at the half and posted a season-high of shooting 70% in the quarter.
At the start of the second half, the Lady Eagles outscored UTSA 16-8 and extended its lead to as much as 25 points to cruise for the win. Taking a major role in the second half was Gray, who, despite playing just 21 minutes, scored 16 of her 21 points in the second half.
While McNelis was happy with the win, she believes that the team has to stay focused heading into Saturday’s game.
“We have to take another step,” McNelis said. “We have to do a better job of keeping UTSA off the glass. They are not going to go home and lay down and say, ‘Oh well. They beat us in Game 1.’ We have to make strides in offensive rebounding and keeping opponents off the offensive class and do a much better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Southern Miss will go for the sweep against UTSA on Saturday, with tipoff set for 4 p.m.