For the Marshall women, it was the sixth loss in a row for the Herd in Conference USA play after opening league play 5-1. Now at 12-13 overall (the first time this year Royce Chadwick's team has fallen below .500) and 5-7 in league play, the Herd has four games to right the ship. Southern Miss, on the other hand, is 17-8, 10-2 in league play and now finds itself in first place thanks to East Carolina knocking off UCF on Sunday, 86-83, in Greenville, N.C.
Alix Barnette scored 18 points against Southern Miss, including this basket over USM's Stephanie Helgeson in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Chadwick was much prouder of the effort by his team in the loss than he was after a blowout loss to UCF on Friday, 68-50, when he kept the team in the locker room 45 minutes after the game ended. "I was very proud of the composure we showed when it didn't seem like anything was falling in our direction," said Chadwick. "We showed heart, and the team effort we gave, I think everyone in that locker room, whether they got in the game or not, are emotionally drained.
"What a great crowd, what a great place, and Marshall fans showed up today to try and get the job done today. I thought they were a huge shot in the arm for us down the stretch," A crowd of 3,526, including 150 from the yearly "Sweetheart Clinic" for girls 12-and-under and many more wearing 1,000 pink shirts issued and shaking 3,000 poms provided by sponsors for the game. It was the biggest home crowd in two seasons, and third biggest besides the two 5,800-plus crowds that saw MU play Ole Miss and UNC-Asheville at the Maryland Tournament in late December.
The Herd led 26-20 at halftime, holding the Golden Eagles to just 6-of-24 (25 percent) from the floor and 0-of-4 from three. Southern Miss profited at the line throughout the game, and hit 8-of-11 in the first half while Marshall only shot four shot at the stripe, hitting three. The Herd stretched the lead to nine points at the 12:03 mark when Chantelle Handy hit a 15-foot shot, followed by an old-fashion three-point play on a lay-up and free throw to give Marshall a 39-30 lead.
"The first half was the best defensive effort of the year," said Chadwick. Southern Miss entered the game shooting 46 percent from the floor. "It was a good example of taking the scouting report to the floor by the team."
But Southern Miss began to press the Herd in the second half, forcing a total of 18 turnovers by Marshall in the game, and scored 19 points off of those take-aways. With 5:38 to go, USM had fought back to force a 49-49 tie. It was the first tie since 18-18 with 6:01 left in the first half. The Eagles also were finding the mark, hitting 16-of-24 in the second half, 67 percent, hitting 2-of-4 threes and continuing to get to the line, hitting 15-of-23 from the line.
A three-point play by Stephanie Helgeson, USM's 6-foot-4 center, gave the Eagles the lead, 52-43, which they extended to 58-50 as Helgeson scored seven points in a row for Southern Miss. Marshall cut the lead to five a couple of times in the last two minutes, but could not find the right combination to make a comeback as the Eagles hit 8-of-10 at the line in the final minute of play for the 69-61 win.
Alix Barnett led the Herd in scoring for the third game in a row, scoring 18 points. She hit just 4-of-13 from the line (1-of-6 in the second half), 2-of-6 threes and 8-for-9 at the line. Tynikki Crook, saddled with three first half fouls, had her eighth career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Handy scored 15 points and had seven boards. Casey Baker had ten points, on just 3-of-11 shooting but 4-of-5 at the line, and led the team with five assists and three steals. Alyssa Hammond had four points and eight rebounds.
For Southern Miss, Helgeson had 17 points while Andrea Baker had 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 7-of-9 from the line. Pauline Love had her league-leading 15th double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, just 4-of-12 shooting but added five assists and a block. Amber Eugene had 14 points, including 8-of-8 from the stripe.
MU led in rebounds, 41-31. Marshall shot 37 percent from the field for the game (22-of-60) while USM hit 22-of-48 (46 percent, including 67 percent in that second half). Free throw wise, it was all the Golden Eagles who hit 23-of-34 (68 percent) while Marshall knocked down 15 of its 19 free throws.
Marshall will be on the road at UAB (Feb. 20) and at Memphis (Feb. 22) before returning home to finish with two home games with Houston and Rice before heading to the C-USA Tournament in New Orleans, held March 5-8 at Tulane's Fogelman Arena.