MIAMI, Fla. -- The Southern Miss Women's basketball team (17-9, 9-5), fueled by four Florida natives and motivation to win for the absent coach Joye Lee-McNelis, routed FIU (5-19, 3-10) 75-37 Thursday night.
"Playing in [Florida] felt good," said freshman Respect Leaphart. "I think that's one of the reasons why I scored 18. At first it was a lot of adrenaline, so I thought I was going to do too much, but I calmed myself down mentally and tried to not go outside my abilities. I wanted the team and coaches to know that they can count on me through hard times and whenever they need me."
Leaphart led all scorers with a career-high 18 points that included an eight-of-eight showing from the free throw line, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Transfer Molly Brown also had a career night. Brown tallied a career-high nine points and corralled four rebounds.
"Coach McNelis and I talked a lot before we left," Brown said. "She talked about how she wanted me to have a good night and, not getting as many minutes, sometimes I do more than I am capable of doing. She told me to relax and that's what I did tonight. It was a relief to get in [and produce]. It had been a burden on my back and I'm glad that [my night] came."
Coach McNelis, though not with the team, was not out of the action.
"I haven't seen my phone, but I bet I have a thousand text messages from Coach," said interim head coach Kiley Hill. "During pre-game I told our kids be who you are and you're playing for a bigger purpose. Basketball is just a game, we're here to entertain, but of course we're playing for Coach McNelis. She's the heart and soul of this program. I'm really proud of this team's effort and our staff has been incredible making sure everything is smooth. We're keeping [Coach McNelis] in our minds and hearts. We wish she was here tonight."
Southern Miss held the Panthers to the fewest points allowed since the 2010-11 season when the Lady Eagles held New Orleans to 37 points.
The Lady Eagles travel to Boca Raton next to face FAU on Saturday Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. CT. Lady Eagle fans can hear Josh West on the radio broadcast for the game on WFOR 1400 AM at 3:30 p.m. CT.