HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Freshman Respect Leaphart scored a career-high 19 points and Southern Miss shot 51 percent from the field as the Golden Eagles defeated Louisiana Tech 72-63 at Reed Green Coliseum Friday night.
The loss snapped LA Tech’s seven-game winning streak and secured the No. 3 seed and first day bye for Southern Miss in the upcoming Conference USA Tournament. LA Tech (17-12, 12-6) will be the No. 4 seed with a UTSA win over Old Dominion on Saturday but will fall to the No. 5 seed if the Monarchs defeat the Roadrunners. The top four seeds get a first day bye.
“It’s disappointing,” said Tech head coach Brooke Stoehr. “You never want to end the year on a loss. But I told them in the locker room that I had a team (at Northwestern State) that lost to one of bottom teams in the league on senior day. All that team did was win four in row and go to the NCAA Tournament. It’s how quickly do we respond. Everybody is 0-0. How quickly can we re-focus.“
Tech jumped out to an early lead behind the strong play of Kierra Anthony and Alexus Malone as the duo helped the Lady Techsters build a 21-11 lead late in the first quarter. Tech led 21-14 at the end of the first.
However, Southern Miss stormed back in the second quarter, outscoring Tech 19-12 as USM hit 8-of-15 field goals in the 10-minute stanza. USM led 33-31 until Anthony hit a driving layup with 5 seconds to play to tie the game at 33-33 at the half.
“When we started fouling in second quarter, it allowed them to get back into the game,” said Stoehr. “We have to be smarter defensively.”
The third quarter was the difference. Tech came out and got to the free throw line, but the Lady Techsters missed six of 14 in the frame. Southern Miss hit 8-of-14 field goals in the quarter and outscored Tech 23-13 to take a 56-46 lead into the final frame. Leaphart, who entered the game having hit three three-pointers all season, hit 3-of-4 in the game, including a pair in the third quarter.
“I think that was the ball game,” said Stoehr. “We missed 11 free throws. I thought we attacked great, but got to the line and couldn’t convert. Give Southern Miss credit. They scored the ball well in the third quarter and got the ball inside against our zone. I didn’t think we were very active at times. They played with some energy. We knew they would be good at home. I thought we responded to some adversity. We lost to a good team that played better than us tonight.
“Leaphart hit some shots (from three) and got some easy looks. Other than putting them at free throw line, we defended pretty well. We didn’t cut off the baseline on some penetrations that allowed layups. We didn’t do a good job of handling baseline jumpers. This team can’t hang its head. This team has shown me a lot. I think during league play this group has grown up. We are not done. We have to turn the page quickly.”
The Techsters didn’t quit in the fourth. Back-to-back three-pointers by Anthony and three straight points by Rochelle Vasquez cut the Golden Eagles advantage down to 66-62 with just over two minutes to play. However, a pair of empty offensive possessions proved costly as USM pushed the lead back out to three possessions.
Malone led Tech with 18 points and 8 rebounds while Anthony added 15 points and Vasquez chipped in with 10 points.