HATTIESBURG, Miss. – A layup from Southern Miss’ Jacorriah Bracey with six seconds remaining marked the fifth lead change in the final five minutes of the game and gave the Lady Eagles a slim 44-43 win over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Women’s Basketball team in a Sun Belt Conference game on Thursday, January 5 at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Louisiana (7-8, 1-2 SBC) had reclaimed the lead in the back-and-forth finish with 24 seconds on the clock after a steal and score from Caira Wren put the visitors ahead 43-42. The Ragin’ Cajuns then got a defensive stop, but left the door open for USM (10-4, 3-0 SBC) when Lanay Wheaton missed a pair of free throws at 0:13.
Wheaton had a shot at redemption on the game’s final shot, but her left-wing jumper rimmed out and the Lady Eagles tracked down the rebound and collected the victory.
The loss for the Ragin’ Cajuns, the second straight after winning their Sun Belt opener, was a tough one to take after leading all but 58 seconds of the first half and trailing by no more than four points in the second half and quickly erasing that deficit with a 7-0 run to end the third quarter.
Louisiana shot 50 percent (11-of-22) in taking control of the game in the first half and building a 28-20 halftime advantage. The grip was loosened in the second half as the Ragin’ Cajuns shot just 18 percent (5-of-28) which ultimately allowed the Lady Eagles to catch up.
Louisiana obtained the first-half lead when Wheaton’s triple at 5:47 of the first quarter provided a 5-3 advantage. The Ragin’ Cajuns created space when a pair of Mariah Stewart baskets and a Destiny Rice three-point play fueled the surge to a 12-7 advantage by the 2:24 mark.
Jaylyn James led the charge in the second quarter that kept Louisiana ahead, starting with a personal five-point run from 7:10 through 6:55 which stretched the lead to 21-13 and later setting up Tamera Johnson for a three-point make at 1:50 that made it 26-19.
USM took advantage of an untimely seven-minute scoring drought from Louisiana in the third quarter, producing 12-0 scoring run to grab the lead at 34-30. A triple from Nubia Benedith at the 1:50 mark ended the scoring spree, then the Ragin’ Cajuns held the Lady Eagles scoreless the rest of the quarter and reclaimed the lead at 37-34.
After battling it out defensively with the Lady Eagles the first five minutes of the fourth quarter the Ragin’ Cajuns seemed to find the spark for a momentum change after Rice banked in a shot at 4:10 and a Wheaton steal led to a second-chance bucket from Johnson at 3:44 which upped the lead to 41-38.
USM wouldn’t allow Louisiana to create a wedge between the two teams, though, as the hosts generated a four-point spurt inside of two minutes to play to set up the photo finish.
Thursday’s matchup marked the first-ever conference game between the two programs and it was also the first-ever Sun Belt Conference women’s basketball game played at Reed Green Coliseum.
It was a group effort for Louisiana with eight different players scoring, led by the nine points from Johnson who also led the squad with five rebounds and four steals.
James and Stewart combined to pace the Ragin’ Cajuns’ efforts in the first half as they totaled 13 points together by recording their game totals of seven and six points, respectively.
Rice picked up four of her seven points in the second half, tying Johnson for the team lead after the break.
Wheaton and Wren picked up a pair of steals in joining Johnson to help Louisiana reach double digits (10) for the eighth time this season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns picked up an assist on 11 of their 16 field goal makes with Benedith, James and Sherry Porter pacing the effort with two assists each.
Louisiana travels to San Marcos, Texas to complete its first road trip in Sun Belt Conference play on Saturday, January 7, taking on Texas State in a 2:00 p.m. contest at Strahan Arena.