With a small-but-mighty crowd in Halton Arena, the Charlotte 49ers (17-11, 9-7 C-USA) took on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (17-12, 9-7 C-USA) on Thursday, March 7 in their final battle before the postseason ensues.
Charlotte began the night with starters Jade Phillips, Mariah Linney, Octavia Jett-Wilson and, of course, seniors Laia Raventós and Ka’Neeshia Brown, who scored the first two points of the night and the Niners’ first four.
After opening up the game at 4-4 less than three minutes into this Conference USA matchup, the Niners never fell below a tied score in the first quarter and would not do so for the entirety of the game. Conference USA Player of the Week Jade Phillips followed by kickstarting an 8-0 run for the Niners with a three. Phillips led her team for the night with 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I wanted to win. I wanted to win for our seniors on this special night; especially for Laia and Ka’Neeshia. We talked about it in the locker room to come out with that mentality against Southern Miss because they are a great team, they played with a lot of urgency and we have to reflect that,” said Phillips. “So that was my mindset, was to come out and reflect the urgency and just play hard how we usually play and do it for our seniors as well, so that was my motivation for tonight.”
Octavia Jett-Wilson had her one and only assist of the game on Phillips’s first three of the night and also recorded eight points and a steal. Mariah Linney added 13 points, including three three-pointers as well as grabbing two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Phillips garnered 10 of her 17 points just in the second quarter while Christian Hithe, Jett-Wilson and Brown also added buckets within the period. Hithe grabbed three rebounds and recorded one assists along with her single bucket that came before the half which saw a score of 37-20 with Charlotte ahead.
The Golden Eagles also had a player lead their team with 17 points in Shonte Hailes. Hailes also grabbed six rebounds, recorded two steals, one block and three steals. Southern Miss also had Respect Leaphart with 10 points, Kelsey Jones with eight and Amber Landing with six.
Southern Miss fought especially hard to get back into the game starting in the end of the third quarter after the Niners spent some time extending their lead. By the end of the third, Charlotte’s lead was cut to only nine points. Within the first four minutes of the final quarter the score was brought to 43-42 just before Raventós came in clutch with her first points of the night with a quick jumper and then again with a three. The Niners pulled out all the stops from then on, literally. Following the buckets from Raventós, Charlotte forced Southern Miss shot-clock violations. Linney, Raventós and Phillips put some more through the basket before Brown knocked the final shot down with a free throw to secure a win on senior night. The Niners finished the night with a 59-46 win over Southern Miss to take the No. 7 seed moving forward into the Conference USA Championships.
“We knew it was gonna be a tough game for her; she didn’t have her legs under her. She got great looks that if she was in a normal rhythm she would have made. That’s what Laiai is: she’s a competitor. And bottom line, at the end of the day, she wants to win. She knows when the team needs her, she’s gonna step up,” said Head Coach Cara Consuegra. “She got those great looks and it’s almost like she just rolled it into the basket. She wanted it more than anyone else and I know that this team is really happy for her.”
Going into the game, Southern Miss sat at a three-way tie for fourth in the conference with Charlotte right behind them as the lone team in fifth and finished the regular season tied with Southern Miss for fifth.
A lot has changed for Charlotte from the beginning of the season to the now, and one thing that has remained the same is how badly they want to win. The difference now is that they have found ways to translate that into wins and garner a season-best five-game winning streak going into the postseason.
“Well, this game was important for a variety of reasons. We talked about it all week. We wanted to win our last game at home, wanted to keep our winning streak going, we wanted to play well. But most importantly, we wanted to win for our seniors and that was the focus of this group as we went out tonight.” said Consuegra.
Charlotte will face No. 10 seed LA Tech on Wednesday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m.