By Robert Wilson

       Unlike several teams around the country, including the Ole Miss men, Southern Miss women’s basketball team chose to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

       Even with only seven players dressed out, Southern Miss rebounded from a 10-point deficit going into the fourth quarter for a 79-74 victory over Alabama-Birmingham Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT at Southern Miss’ Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg.

       Southern Miss improved to 19-13 and plays host to Murray State, 20-11, Saturday at 5 p.m. at Green Coliseum.

       Southern Miss scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to come back from its 10-point deficit going into the final quarter. UAB scored the game’s first 11 points and led by as many as 13 points in the first quarter.

       Senior guard Domonique Davis led Southern Miss with 26 points. Melyia Grayson had 22 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, and 16 rebounds. Jacorriah Bracey had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

       “Melyia was the beast in the fourth quarter,” Southern Miss coach Joye Lee McNelis said. “Domonique was our leader and showed competitive spirit and led this team to victory. We scored 31 points in the fourth quarter. If you would have asked me that before the game, I would have told you you were crazy. We hadn’t scored 31 points many times in the half. There are two words to remember this group by. No. 1, they were relentless and we talked about being relentless. The greatest thing about the win was when we got down, we continued to fight. So it was like you got punched in the mouth, you got right back up and continued to fight. You didn’t have people holding their heads down. The second thing they played with a lot of poise. When you get down by 12, you can hold your head down a long time, but they did not. On behalf of my staff, I can’t say enough about how proud I am of them. This team may that game happen. These girls wanted to compete and play for the name on the front of our jerseys.

       Said Grayson: “I just wanted to go out there and compete and play this game as long as I can.”

       “We hadn’t played a game in a week, but we wanted to play and it speaks for how much we love this game,” Davis said. “We were going to play this game regardless of how many players we had.”

       Southern Miss had only seven players due to players entering the transfer portal.

       Saturday will be McNelis’ 1,000th career game. 

       “The first thing I thought of was, I’m old,” said McNelis, who is in her 20th season at Southern Miss, and xxth season overall. “God has blessed me. I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for Him and His guidance and direction and faith in Him. In a life in general, you have challenges. You have to have faith to be able to get through it. I’m very thankful He has allowed me to coach and given me this opportunity and hopefully I’ve had an impact somewhere along the way. I don’t keep up with those numbers. That’s not important to me. The players are the ones who are important to me and make it happen.”

       Southern Miss team showed fight and grit like their coach.

       McNelis has stage 4 lung cancer, adenocarcinoma, and a diagnosis in August showed it had returned. She had been taking chemotherapy medicine and going to chemotherapy in Hattiesburg but continued to coach. 

This is Coach McNelis’ third battle with this same cancer after doctors originally discovered it in 2017, which ended with the removal of her lungs’ upper left lobe. The same adenocarcinoma recurred in 2020, this time in the pleura surface of her left lung. After this discovery, she began treatment with medicine and doctors believed the cancer was in remission until her scan in mid-August.

Southern Miss men’s basketball coach Jay Ladner has known McNelis since they were both growing up in Hancock County in the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Coach Joye is and has been an incredible inspiration to me since I was young,” Ladner said. “We both share Hancock County roots and as a young boy my dad would take me to see her play when she played at Hancock North Central. She was such a great player too as Southern Miss. She’s one of the toughest minded people I have ever known, but also a great role model for the girls under her tutelage. I feel honored to be able to work with someone every day that I have the greatest admiration and respect for.”

       McNelis has partnered with the Hospital Patient Navigation Program at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg to provide assistance to other cancer patients in need. For more information, go to and selected the Coach McNelis Fund from the dropdown menu.

“As I have gone through this battle with cancer, I have learned about so many other people in our community that have no way to get to their treatments,” McNelis said. “It is important to me that we raise funds to help them in their fight against cancer. I know of a gentleman who is 91 years old that drives one hour to his treatment and returns home. He has no family or anyone else to assist him in his travels and he is not alone in having this problem. That is why the Navigation Program is so dear to my heart. It can benefit these individuals and many others. It is important that we let these cancer patients know that they are not in this fight alone.”

McNelis also serves as the Sun Belt Conference’s Captain to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the WBCA’s Kay Yow Cancer Fund Initiative. Since its inception in 2007, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund has awarded more than eight million dollars to support life-saving cancer research and underserved programs that provide access to quality cancer healthcare.