HATTIESBURG, Miss. – The Sam Houston State Bearkats erased a 13-point first-half deficit and put together a late run in the game’s final quarter to pick up its first road win of the year, 65-61, over Southern Miss on Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum.
The game closed out the Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic and gives the Bearkats (3-3) their first non-conference road win since early in the 2015-16 season. Jaylonn Walker led all players with 23 points, hitting 9-for-15 from the floor, including a trio of big 3-point baskets in the second half to aid in the Bearkat comeback.
Jenniffer Oramas, who put up a career-high 28 points just a day earlier in a loss to Troy, delivered another 14 points along with six assists against the Golden Eagles (4-2). Amber Leggett had 12 points of her own, while Lydia Baxter and Dominique Maxwell added five apiece, with Maxwell’s all coming in the game’s final three minutes.
The Kats forced 24 turnovers for the game, the fifth straight game they have forced at least that number of turnovers, and held USM to just 33 percent shooting for the game. They needed that defensive effort to overcome a 43-25 deficit on the glass, a number the Golden Eagles took advantage of for a 20-4 edge in second-chance points.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston clamped down defensively and was strong at the foul line in the opening quarter, taking a 15-9 lead after a period of play. The Kats were only able to get away six field goal tries in the first quarter, but nailed nine of its 12 free throws while holding USM to just 3-for-16 shooting.
Leggett hit six of those foul shots and Walker had all three of the Kats’ field goals in the quarter, but Sam Houston was not able to get much going offensively in the second period. They would hit just three of their 14 tries from the field and did not take a free throw, but still had things tied up at 21-21 on Leggett’s first field goal of the game with less than two minutes to play.
But the Golden Eagles responded with a 3-point basket which sparked an 8-0 run that closed out the half and gave the home team a 29-21 lead at the break. USM would carry that over into the second half where they would build their lead up to as much as 13 points before the Kats got a score from Oramas and two from Lydia Baxter to cut the USM lead to 38-31 with just over six minutes left on the clock.
The Kats would get it as close as five points when Walker canned the first Bearkat 3-point bucket of the night with just 1:39 left in the quarter, but they would still go into the final period needing to make up a seven-point deficit. It would take the Kats less than three minutes to make up that deficit on a quick 10-3 that was capped by consecutive 3-point baskets by Walker that tied it up at 54-54.
The Golden Eagles still held a two-point lead with four minutes to play, but then the Kats made their final push. Maxwell gave the Kats the lead when she nailed a 3-point shot – her first field goal of the game - with 3:04 to go. La’Sha Haynes followed with a jumper on the next possession and Maxwell added another with just over a minute to play, a 6-0 run that put the Kats up 63-58 with 1:09 to play.
The teams traded empty possessions, pushing the Kats near the finish line. USM was able to get the score back to within 63-61 with just five seconds to go, but Walker closed out her night, and the game, with a pair of free throws in the final seconds for the game’s final margin.
Sam Houston will get a week off before hitting the court once again, on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Johnson Coliseum against St. Thomas (TX). They will then hit the road for a Dec. 8 game at Louisiana in Lafayette.