April 1, 2014
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The accolades were many for the 2013-14 Southern Miss women's basketball team.
And rightfully so.
The Lady Eagles tied a school-record with 27 victories, having had their season end in a double-overtime thriller at Mississippi State, 74-66, in the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. When the season started some five months prior, though, the league prognosticators would not have dreamed of the Lady Eagles' success, having picked them No. 13 in the league's coaches preseason poll.
"This team's performance exceeded what was expected," said Southern Miss women's basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis. "We were picked to finish 13th in our league and to finish in the top four was quite an accomplishment, but to finish second, that was awesome. I think our newcomers took offense that we were picked to finish so low. That played with a chip on their shoulder and had to prove something."
After opening the campaign 6-2, the team began to gel quite quickly.
"This team had such great chemistry together and that played in our success as well," said McNelis. "Not to mention how hard our coaching staff worked to make them better. This group was one of the hardest working teams that I've coached. I cannot say enough about them."
Led by one of the most heralded seniors in the history of the school, Jamierra Faulkner, the Lady Eagles won 13 games in a row at one point during the year en route to finishing second in Conference USA and reaching the league's tournament championship game.
Faulkner, the 2014 Gillom Trophy winner for top collegiate women's basketball player in the state of Mississippi, finished her career as the school's all-time leader in assists (863) and steals (366) and third in points (2,056). Her final point total also places her seventh all-time on the C-USA career charts as well. She also earned first-team All-Conference USA accolades and was the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
"We had several individuals who had outstanding seasons," said McNelis. "What can I say about Jamierra Faulkner. She is definitely one of a kind. No question she will go down as one of the best players ever to wear the Black and Gold. She was the reason we had such a successful season. At times, she just put us on her back and just willed us to win."
The successful season also earned Lady Eagle coach, Joye Lee-McNelis, C-USA Coach of the Year honors as the squad captured its first 20-win season since the 2008-09 campaign. As for players, the talent was not limited to just Faulkner. "We were one of the younger teams in the nation this season as far as experience in Division I. We had two players with actual Division I playing experience in Jamierra Faulkner and Jerontay Clemons."
Junior Tamara Jones, behind 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, collected the C-USA Newcomer of the Year award, while Brittany Dinkins, a two-time C-USA Freshman of the Week, was named a member of the All-Freshman team.
The Lady Eagles also found a way to rebound in the second half, coming from behind six times during the year after intermission to collect victories. However, the Lady Eagles had to overcome double digit deficits in seven games in posting victories. McNelis' troops also finished 17-1 at home during the year.
Brighter days, though, are ahead for the Lady Eagles.
"We return everyone except Jamierra," said McNelis. "I know it's going to be a chore to replace her, but our future is bright and I look forward to next season."
It should be another fun ride next season and the accolades should continue for the Lady Eagles for years to come.
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