It was as good of a start that Hattiesburg High School alum Melyia Grayson could want in her first career game at Southern Miss.
The 6-foot-3 true freshman scored 10 points and collected three rebounds in the Lady Eagles' 63-50 season-opening win over Nicholls State.
"I felt the play of Melyia Grayson was (a positive)," Southern Miss coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. "We were able to watch that flourish, and you saw some of her natural abilities where she can score the basketball.
"I'm really proud of Melyia. Melyia has a lot of tricks in her bag. Melyia has natural things about her. Her biggest weakness is that she has to learn to be tough. The physical aspect is what has been the challenge for her. I am so proud of her. To be able to make some of the plays she made was outstanding. I think tonight we saw the glimpse of Melyia Grayson."
Grayson sank her first bucket at the start of the third quarter, which is when she says she began to feel more comfortable with the game.
According to Grayson, she became more comfortable with the game in the second half after laying down a block towards the end of the third quarter. Grayson scored six of her points in the fourth quarter.
"I started out kind of a slow, but I started picking it up the play of the game and having fun," McNelis said. "With it being my first game, I was really hyped, but at the same time, I was nervous. I think what turned me up was the two back-to-back blocks."
Southern Miss was forced to cancel the first five games of its season as a result of COVID-19 issues.
"Getting ready for the Thanksgiving tournament, obviously we were really excited," McNelis said. "We were much further along, I know that sounds crazy, as a team because we had a lot of practice and were in a flow.
"Unfortunately, I was the one diagnosed with COVID, and then on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, it was that contact tracing we had players out," McNelis said. "Coach (Jack Trosper) on gameday tested positive that Friday morning. Then players are out with contact tracing, and then it went crazy from that point. I will say we have had only four players that have really had COVID. The rest has been contact tracing."
According to McNelis, her first full team practice didn't occur until the day before the season-opener.
"We did not have an entire group, until (Thursday), for a full practice," McNelis said. "To be able to have that kind of turnaround, I am very pleased with what we were able to do today."
Allie Kennedy Leadership
In Friday's win, leading the Lady Eagles was senior Allie Kennedy, who scored a team-high of 14 points, hauled in four rebounds and recorded two steals.
Kennedy helped spearhead Southern Miss' efficient offense, which shot 48% while also holding Nicholls State to 28% shooting.
"Allie Kennedy, I'm so proud of her," Kennedy said. "She has really battled confidence in her first three years here in shooting the basketball. She did a tremendous job today. I think this is a huge game for her to have a sense of confidence."
According to Kennedy, her goal this season is to step up as a leader for the team that features six new faces.
"Coach McNelis and I have had numerous talks about how this is my year to step up and be the leader that I could have been or should have been in the past," Kennedy said. "I feel like this is really my time because there are so many new people. I've been here forever, so I'm excited about it."
Kennedy helped pave Southern Miss' lead over Nicholls State when she scored three straight buckets to start the second quarter, which accounted for seven of her points on the night.
"To not play a single game together and with the ups and downs that we have had with the whole quarantine thing," Kennedy said. "We knew there was going to be mistakes, but for us to play for this first time together, I think we played really well."
Fess Hawkins, a transfer from Vincennes University, made her debut with the Lady Eagles by scoring 10 points and leading the team with 10 rebounds.
"Hats off to Fess Hawkins. Her first game as a Division I college player, and she has a double-double," McNelis said. "She got her hands on a lot of other basketballs, but she wasn't able to capture that and hold on to it.
"When you look at Fess and Melyia, it truly brings the depth that we needed for our program."