CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte was within three with 9:33 left but Southern Miss never let the 49ers any closer, as the home team was held without a field goal in the final 6:22 and the visitors pulled away for a 72-52 victory Saturday night in Halton Arena.
The Niners, who played from behind for much of the game as they only led a total of 6:03 in various stretches, could not slow down the Lady Eagles in the final stages to drop below .500 for the first time since ending the non-conference campaign at 6-7. Charlotte is now 10-11 on the season overall and 4-4 in Conference USA action.
Sophomore Kira Gordon finished with 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, leading all players on the glass, for her second career double-double. Her baker’s dozen effort on the boards marked the highest total by a 49ers player against Conference USA competition this season and were the most since Gabby Tyler hauled in 14 against Furman Dec. 29, 2013.
Senior Ny Hammonds added 10 points, while junior Hillary Sigmon and freshman Kenya Olley each tallied nine points, as Olley equaled her career best set at UNLV Dec. 1 in the Lady Rebel Round-Up. Olley also added a career-high two blocked shots, recording two-thirds of the Niners’ rejections.
Charlotte finished 9-of-9 as a team from the foul line, led by Olley’s 3-of-3 performance. It marked the squad’s first perfect showing from the charity stripe since hitting all six of its shots against Xavier Jan. 20, 2013.
Four Southern Miss (17-5, 6-3 C-USA) netted double-figure points, led by Kierra Jordan’s 15 to go with her team-high 10 rebounds for a double-double. Jamierra Faulkner contributed a double-double of her own, pouring in 14 points with 13 assists to remain on top of the category nationally.
Jerontay Clemons notched 12 and Tamara Jones finished with 10 points and nine rebounds to give USM a well-balanced attack.
An Olley jumper at the 9:33 mark by Olley pulled Charlotte back down to one possession, 51-48, but then Southern Miss rattled off an 8-0 run over the next 2:26, capped by a Jordan layup, to open an 11-point cushion, 59-48. Freshman Ciara Gregory finally ended the drought with a running layup following Olley’s second blocked shot, but it would mark the final field goal of the contest for her team at 6:22.
Jordan then answered on the other end following a series of three-straight layup tries and grabbing her offensive rebound each time. The Lady Eagles lead grew to 15, 65-50, with 4:19 left, forcing the 49ers to burn their final timeout. Unfortunately for Charlotte, only two free throws by junior Ayanna Holmes were the final marks in the home scoring column the rest of the way as Southern Miss caused six turnovers and the Niners missed 10 shots in that last 9:33.
The game opened with both teams trading baskets through the first seven minutes with the 49ers scoring first and then the Lady Eagles having an answer each time. Once Gordon put Charlotte ahead 12-10 at 13:02, Jones stepped behind the 3-point arc to provide USM its first lead, 13-12, at 11:03. The close contest remained that way following two Hammonds free throws. The two charity tosses gave the 49ers a slight, 14-13, edge, before Markia Nix ignited a 9-0 spurt, only to have Jones cap it with another triple, pushing Southern Miss’ advantage to eight, 22-14, with 8:49 to go in the period.
Charlotte cut the deficit to six but Lashyra Cotton’s layup at 6:29 inched the difference to double digits for the first time, 26-16. Sigmon drained the Niners’ lone 3-pointer and then Olley hit two free throws, as the margin was sliced in half. Olley added an old-fashioned three-point play with 4:10 remaining, but it would be as close as the 49ers would get the remainder of the period.
Ashley Folsom bookended a 6-0 USM stretch, building another 10-point cushion, 36-26, before the visitors entered the locker room with an eight-point, 38-30, advantage. It marked Charlotte’s largest deficit at the break since the Minnesota contest Nov. 13.
Back-to-back jumpers from Gordon and Hammonds helped the Niners pull within four, 42-38, by the 16:41 mark of the second stanza. They were the start of an 8-2 Charlotte run, as Sigmon and Gordon again added buckets to pull their team within two, 44-42.
The two teams would again trade points in the next four minutes with Southern Miss increasing its lead to as high as five, 51-46, before Olley kept the 49ers within three entering the last 9:33.
Charlotte returns to action at 9 p.m. EST Thursday when it travels to Ruston, La., to face Louisiana Tech in another televised contest. The game will be broadcast on the Fox Sports Networks and shown locally on Fox Sports South.
Charlotte Postgame Quotes
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
Very disappointing performance from our team. We had a bye week this week and we had an entire week to work on things about us and we actually had a really great week of practice. I thought we improved in a lot of areas. I think we came out tonight and unfortunately did not execute anything that we worked on. Our offensive execution tonight was just really poor. We didn’t share the ball well, we didn’t screen well and we just didn’t have any rhythm. Defensively, we struggled. Southern Miss is certainly a good team and (Jamierra) Faulkner is the best guard in this league, no doubt about that. I just don’t think we focused on what we were supposed to do. We really struggled to guard the ball screens, and we tried to change it and change it, but we just weren’t focused in on those changes so we didn’t have everyone on the same page. So it comes down to a team listening, repeating and reminding each other and none of that was there tonight. So it’s unfortunate, and I’m not sure when we’ve had a defeat this bad at home and that hurts a lot because we take pride in how we play here, and we take pride in what we bring to Niner Nation. The only thing I can do is promise you is that we will continue to work so this does not happen again.
On the last nine minutes
I think we got discouraged. Our team performs well when we are confident and that’s been a struggle this year when we have been up and down. When a team makes a run on us, we unfortunately have not stayed confident and true to our fundamentals and who we are. We panic a little bit and start to doubt ourselves and I think we did that tonight. Southern Miss is a good team, their guards are good, they sensed that, and they stuck it to us. Unfortunately we just weren’t able to respond.
On the upcoming road game
We really need our upperclassmen to step up as leaders. I think that is something that has hurt us all year. We have players in leadership positions that have never been there and that’s very difficult, certainly for anybody. And I just don’t think that has been there. We don’t have a core that is leading us every day, by saying the right things and doing the right things all the time. But to be a team that wins and a team that competes, you have to have your upperclassmen perform at that level all the time, and right now that’s not consistent. And those players need to feel this and this needs to hurt them. And this needs to motivate them to step up their game.
Senior Ny Hammonds
On focusing teammates
I try to talk to them a lot on the bench when the coaches are talking and huddled. I try talking a lot.