Rebels Fall Just Short vs. No. 14 MSU, 60-56
STARKVILLE, Miss. – Despite a bombastic fourth quarter and breakout performances from Donnetta Johnson and Valerie Nesbitt, the Ole Miss women’s basketball team couldn’t quite erase a 14-point second half deficit, falling just short in an upset bid over No. 14 Mississippi State, 60-56, at Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday evening.
The Rebels (7-2, 1-2 SEC) were again without freshman phenom Madison Scott, and SEC No. 5 scorer Shakira Austin was held to just six points by the Bulldogs (8-2, 3-1 SEC), but Johnson and Nesbitt combined for 43 points on the evening to help pace the Rebels – a career-high 25 from Johnson and a season-high 18 for Nesbitt.
“That is what a rivalry game should look like,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “This isn’t a moral victory, but we did come on the road and compete against the No. 14 team in the country. A lot of things just didn’t go our way.”
Included in that is a combined 16 points in the final frame, which saw the Rebels go on a 10-0 run while holding MSU to more than five minutes without a basket. Nesbitt cut the Bulldog lead to 56-54 with 1:26 left, and after State broke their long scoring drought she answered again to keep it a two-point game at 58-56 with 1:00 even to play. With 25.3 seconds left, she hopped in front of an errant pass, and an ensuing Ole Miss timeout gave the Rebels the ball on their end of the floor and a chance to tie or win. However, Johnson’s final mid-range jumper attempt came up just short, and the Bulldogs were able to seal the victory with two Myah Taylor (10 points) free throws.
“I just looked at them in the huddle (before Johnson’s shot attempt) and I said y’all, please do not quit on me right now,” McPhee-McCuin said. “This is a moment of growth. I promise you we’re gonna have a chance to win this game. Let’s just tie it up and put the pressure solely on them. If we lose, it’s on me, so just play freely, and they just played freely.”
Mississippi State did an effective job of getting Austin into foul trouble and doubling her while on the court, holding her to just six points even though she still scrapped her way to 11 boards.
“(Austin) is heartbroken right now, and I know that she’ll bounce back,” McPhee-McCuin said. “But sometimes, there’s blessings in the lessons, so hopefully we’ll move forward.”
The Rebels finished shooting 41 percent from the floor (22-of-54) and had a dominant 39-29 edge on the glass, but committed 15 turnovers and surrendered 18 points off of them in the process. Despite a valiant effort, Jessika Carter and the Bulldogs proved to be too much down the stretch, as she scored 19 points with nine rebounds to lead the way for MSU.
The Rebels pounced early, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and forcing an MSU timeout just over one minute into the action – the largest lead for Ole Miss over the dominant Bulldogs since 2015. Donnetta Johnson would make sure Ole Miss would keep pace, but the Rebels trailed MSU 12-8 late in the first quarter. Ole Miss proceeded to hold the Bulldogs scoreless for the final 3:10 of the first quarter as Donnetta Johnson scored two more, knotting the game 12-12 at the end of the quarter.
The Rebels saw a near three-minute lead diminish thanks to back-to-back threes from Aliyah Matharu to trail 21-18 going into the final media timeout of the first half. MSU used a 12-2 run to open up the largest lead of the game at seven coming out of the timeout. However, Ole Miss never blinked. Valarie Nesbit’s layup with five seconds left in the half cut the lead to four as the Bulldogs went into the locker room up 31-27. This was the first time the Rebels trailed at the break this season after five lead changes on Sunday.
Ole Miss shot 42 percent from the floor in the first half while Donnetta Johnson led the way with 10 points and four rebounds. Valarie Nesbit had eight points, four of which coming from the free throw line. Tiya Douglas had five points, including the only made three for the Rebels. Ole Miss had a 20-14 advantage on the boards, keeping things close going into the second half.
Both teams found points on the first five possessions of the second half. After a Donnetta Johnson three-pointer, the Rebels were held scoreless for 2:43 as the Bulldogs had a 40-34 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter. Ole Miss continued to struggle offensively as Jessika Carter began to get churning in the paint, forcing the Rebels to call a timeout a few minutes later after an 8-0 MSU run and 44-34 advantage. After three complete, the Bulldogs began to seize control, up 50-38.
Both teams would go back and forth all the way until the midway point of the fourth quarter, when Valarie Nesbit willed her team back within two points of the Bulldogs, sparking the aforementioned 10-0 Rebel run with under four minutes left to play that setup the thrilling but heartbreaking finish.
The Rebels return to The Pavilion on Thursday (Jan. 14) to continue SEC play against the Missouri Tigers. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network+.
(Article and feature image courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics)
Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.