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Underdog status doesn’t bother Matt Insell or his Rebels’ team

Underdog status doesn’t bother Matt Insell or his Rebels’ team

In Matt Insell’s opinion, there is nothing wrong with being the underdog. The Ole Miss women’s basketball head coach wakes up on game day unafraid of a heavyweight fight where his team is down, because he knows they will be ready to go the distance and land the knockout.

Shandricka Sessom

Shandricka Sessom helped lead the Rebels to a 55-52 victory over Vandy. (Photo credit: Ellen O’Nan/Ole Miss Athletics)

On Sunday, Ole Miss entered the final game in the Tad Pad as an underdog to Vanderbilt. After the short-lived 2-0 lead off a short jumper from the Rebels’ leading scorer Shandrika Sessom, Insell’s young team trailed the rest of the way.

The Rebels saw the Commodores end the third period on a 9-2 run to take a 40-32 lead. But the Rebels (9-5, 1-0 SEC) never gave up and  ultimately took Vandy to the mat. 

The Commodores’ leading scorer, Christa Reed, knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner to put Vanderbilt up 47-35 early in the final period. At that moment, the entire Vanderbilt bench jumped up and threw fist pumps to the five Vanderbilt players on the floor, celebrating the dominating performance they were watching–in front of the Ole Miss fans and former players on hand for the final game in the coliseum.

Then all of a sudden, things changed for the better and Insell’s group grew up right in front of him, displaying why Ole Miss Women’s Basketball has won over 400 games inside Tad Smith Coliseum.

Rebels make a late run against Vandy to seal the win

With under five minutes to go, the Rebels went on a 12-2 run to close their deficit to 49-47, thanks to two 3-pointers from junior guard Shequila Joseph, who finished the game with 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting, including a 2-for-4 effort from beyond the arc.

Joseph went to the free throw line for two shots after being fouled by Jasmine Jenkins and tied the game at 52-all. The entire Commodores’ bench was in shock, as were their black and gold covered fans who traveled 3 hours and 55 minutes to be at the game.

Sisk 22

Sick celebrates after the Rebels’ win. (Photo credit: Ellen O’Nan/Ole Miss Athletics)

Insell appeared a bit nervous on the sideline during the entire final period as he saw his team trailing and Vanderbilt (11-3, 0-1) taking its time on offense. The Commodores held the basketball until 20 seconds ran off the shot clock. But any nerves on Insell’s part were put to rest after his guard Erika Sisk drove the lane–dribbling with her left hand–and made the right-handed layup over Marqu’es Webb that converted into a 3-point play.

Sisk finished with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting and had six steals and three assists in 37 minutes.

Insell, his staff, and players almost ran onto the court to grab hold of Sisk, who didn’t realize her shot had gone in until she heard the raucous roar of the crowd.

In the end, Insell was happy to see his team fight back because it told him they have the “it” factor in their genes. Of pulling out the last second win, Insell said:

I’ve been coaching in this league now for nine seasons, and I’ve been a part of a lot of unbelievable wins. I’ve beaten Tennessee at the buzzer, Kentucky and LSU. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a win like that.

“I respect these players so much,” Insell said. “We started 1-3 and people counted us out. We go to Southern Miss and have a very similar game where we just missed shots and just didn’t have anything going. We didn’t have a lot of toughness. Then we lose a close game to Tulane, one we should have won.”

Speaking of being counted out, a sports writer out of Missouri gave his own mid-season report on SEC Women’s Basketball and had Ole Miss ranked 12th and Vanderbilt at No. 6. On Dec. 30, 2015 Blake Toppmeyer, of the Columbia Daily Tribune, had the Rebels ranked 12th before their contest against the Commodores, saying: “This has to be the potential to be a pretty close game. Both of these teams have thus far performed about to the level I had expected.”

So what did Insell have to say about his team being overlooked? Nothing. He just told his players to go play and prove them wrong:

So when people count us out, that’s when we are really good with our backs are against the wall. We like that; Erika Sisk likes that; I like that. I like when people don’t think much of us. I hope people keep thinking we are down and out, because we are really not. We are going to win a lot of games in this league and you can look up in March, you will probably see us right there on that bubble with a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Bright future for Rebels’ basketball

Insell is proud of his team and looking forward to what the rest of the season holds for the Rebels. “Vanderbilt’s got a great program,” he said. “But let me tell you something, this is a great program too, and this program is improving every day.”

And with no seniors on his team, a top-20 ranked recruiting class, and a new arena in which to play, Coach Insell is certainly justified in his optimism over the team’s future:

As I tell people all of the time, ain’t none of them leaving. We got more coming. So it’s just getting better, better and better. And so you better get on the wagon now.

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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