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Rebels Drop Heartbreaker to No. 20 Tennessee, 68-67

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Ole Miss competed on the road for the full 40 minutes of play, but came up just a bit short as the No. 20 Tennessee Lady Vols erased a 13-point deficit and made free throws down the stretch to knock off the Rebels, 68-67, at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday evening.

 

The Rebels (7-6, 1-6 SEC) shot 46 percent (27-of-59) from the floor and forced 17 turnovers against a high-powered Lady Vols (11-3, 5-1 SEC) squad, but Tennessee held a plus-seven advantage on the boards and were a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe in the second half – 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter alone — which proved devastating late in a hard-fought fight from start to finish.

 

“Heartbroken for our girls. I thought they gave everything they had,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “We just made some really poor, youthful mistakes in inopportune times. We had momentum going. I didn’t want to give a team like that momentum. We had our opportunities. We’re close. I know I sound like a broken record. I really believe it. I’m proud of our team.”

 

It was an all-around team effort on Thursday, with different Rebels stepping up in key moments as Ole Miss lead for the first 24:53 of game time. Donnetta Johnson led the way with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, 15 of which came in the second half and 13 in a wild fourth quarter. Shakira Austin finished with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and a team-high six rebounds, while Snudda Collins had 13 points in her first career start. Collins’ 3-of-5 night from beyond the arc marked her eighth career multiple three-point game and her fifth in SEC play.

 

Ole Miss was active on the defensive end early, forcing turnovers with tight man-to-man defense on each of Tennessee’s first two possessions to overcome a slow shooting start by taking a 6-2 lead with 6:26 left. Ole Miss had forced four turnovers already with four points coming off of them.

 

The Rebels kept the pressure on for the remainder of the quarter, forcing three more turnovers to take an 18-8 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to Collins’ first three-pointer of the game. After 10 minutes, Ole Miss shot 8-of-15 (53 percent) from the field, forced seven turnovers and had a 12-4 advantage in the paint.

 

Jordan Horston got Tennessee back to a single-digit deficit after trailing by 13 thanks to seven consecutive points. It played a part in a 9-0 Lady Vol run that was later snapped by an Austin jump shot three minutes later. Nonetheless, Tennessee was back in the game, going into the locker room trailing 33-30 – the second time all season the Lady Vols have trailed at halftime, snapping a 10-game streak.

 

Ole Miss shot 48 percent from the floor in the first half (14-of-29) with Austin and Collins already in double figures with 10 points apiece. Austin also had four rebounds while Nesbit had three assists, both were game highs. Both Rebels and Lady Vols were deadlocked in the turnovers and rebound categories, 8-8, 15-15 respectively.

 

Five minutes into the second half, Ole Miss answered most Lady Vol attempts to take the lead, both teams trading blows. Tennessee finally broke through with 3:07 left in the third quarter after a pair of Rennia Davis free throws. The Lady Vols ended the quarter on a 6-0 run and had their largest lead of the game going into the final quarter of play up 49-45. Tennessee had a plus-six rebound advantage in the third quarter of play.

 

Ole Miss scored the first two of the fourth quarter to tie the game back up, but a three-pointer from Rae Burrell gave Tennessee a 54-51 lead with 6:52 left to play. Going into the final media timeout, the game was tied at 56 with 3:38 left.

 

Both teams continued to go back and forth under a minute left. Horston’s two free throws with 58 seconds left gave Tennessee a 64-61 lead. A traveling call on Ole Miss allowed the Lady Vols to go down the court and score at the shot clock buzzer with 16 seconds left. Mimi Reid proceeded to go down the court for a layup and-one with 6.8 seconds left to cut the lead to 66-64. A quick foul allowed Burrell to hit two free throws to go up four with five seconds left. Johnson drained a three pointer at the buzzer with a hand in her face, but it wasn’t quite enough as the Rebels came up just one point short in the end.

 

The Rebels will remain on the road when they travel to Baton Rouge on Sunday (Jan. 31) to take on LSU. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network+.

 

Follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissWBB, Facebook at Ole Miss WBB and on Instagram at Ole MissWBB. You can also follow head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin on Twitter at @YolettMcCuin