STARKVILLE, Miss. – In the early portion of its Southeastern Conference schedule, Ole Miss has played three tough conference games on the road, but Rebels’ sophomore guard Alissa Alston has noticed something special about her teammates along the way.
Alston witnessed resiliency from the Rebels during each road game, especially in Monday night’s showdown against No. 4 Mississippi State, a 73-62 Ole Miss loss which gave the Bulldogs their sixth straight win in the series. The win also pushed State to a school-best 19-0 record to start the season and a 5-0 record in the SEC.
That being said, at certain moments in Monday’s game, Ole Miss certainly challenged the Bulldogs.
Late in the third quarter, the Rebels cut their deficit to 11 points off two foul shots by senior guard Erika Sisk, before junior guard Victoria Vivians scored five straight points to push the Bulldogs’ lead back up to 16 (46-35).
In the final quarter, while trailing 70-55, Alston scored two straight buckets to pull Ole Miss (13-5, 2-3) to within 70-60, the closest the team had been since the opening minutes of the first quarter. A couple of possessions later, however, Vivians went to the free throw line and finished off the pesky Rebels.
Last season, when both of these historic programs met inside Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State trounced Ole Miss 79-51. The Rebels showed much more fight this time around, and that had a lot to do with the addition of freshman forward Shelby Gibson and senior forward Taylor Manuel.
When Alston, who finished with 14 points, three assists, two rebounds, and one steal in 28 minutes of action against State, was asked what her team has shown thus far during the gauntlet of tough games, her response was straightforward.
“We fight, we don’t stop fighting until the time runs out. We don’t stop swinging. We keep going.”
Fighting is probably the best word to use for the Rebels’ team’s effort, especially on the defensive end. Vivians, who came in shooting 40.4 percent from the field for the Bulldogs, was held to 38.1 percent shooting (8 of 21) from the field despite scoring the game-high 23 points.
Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell echoed his players’ thoughts on the Rebels’ never-quit mentality.
“I think we showed we can play with anyone in the country. We got back in there late, but we didn’t play our best. Our bunch battled and we’ll continue to get better and improve. I’m proud of them.”
After the game, Bulldogs head coach Vic Schaefer mentioned that Insell’s team was disruptive at times, placing Mississippi State in unusual situations on offense. The Bulldogs were outscored, 34-24, in the paint.
“Anytime you have someone like Manuel, (Shequila) Joseph, and Gibson do something defensively, we’re going to try and attack that,” Schaefer said about the Rebels’ post players, with Manuel the only one fouling out. “And so, I thought we did that early, and our guards had a lot to do with their foul trouble and their bigs.”
Schaefer also recognized the work done by the Ole Miss post players.
“…You know what? We still didn’t have an inside game. With that being said, we still had a hard time scoring down there.”
Vic Shaefer, MSU head coach
Ole Miss: Monday night’s game against Mississippi State was the third of four straight for the Rebels against teams ranked in the top 20 of the NCAA’s RPI (at Auburn, Tennessee, at Mississippi State, at South Carolina).
The all-time series between Ole Miss and the Bulldogs moves to 62-29, with the Rebels leading the way. For the second consecutive game, Ole Miss was held to single digits in the first half with just eight points in the first quarter.
Alston scored in double figures for the second time in the last three games, and her 14 points tied her season-high. Junior guard Shandricka Sessom was a rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with a team-high 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting, including nine rebounds.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs and top-ranked UConn are the only two undefeated teams in the nation. Mississippi State is 39-3 in Humphrey Coliseum since the 2014-15 season and 55-8 going back to 2013-14. The Bulldogs have won nine straight at the Hump going back to last season.
Rebels’ junior guard Chrishae Rowe, an Oregon transfer, wasn’t available to play Monday night and hasn’t played in the team’s last two games. Insell mentioned Rowe has an illness and said he doesn’t have a timetable for her return. Rowe has played in six games for Ole Miss this season, averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game.
No moral victory
Insell patted Alston on the back during the post-game press conference for her effort on the court. He was even happy with the effort from the rest of the team, but doesn’t consider a close loss to an Associated Press Top 5 program a moral victory.
“We don’t use that word in our program, never will use that word in our program.”
Up Next: Another nationally ranked opponent
Ole Miss faces another nationally ranked SEC opponent when the Rebels travel to No. 5 South Carolina Thursday night. (6:00 p.m., SECN+). But regardless of what happens against the Gamecocks, you can be sure Alston and her teammates will keep fighting until the clock hits zero.
(Photo credit: Petre Thomas, Ole Miss Athletics)