Saturday, April 17, 2021

Ole Miss Falls to Tennessee in Quarterfinals of SEC Tournament

One of the youngest rosters in the country took command and gave the No. 14 Tennessee Lady Vols all they could handle, but a couple freak buzzer beaters and a late run by Tennessee ended up being the difference in a 77-72 loss on Friday night. The defeat ends the Rebels’ stay at the SEC Tournament, with this Quarterfinal appearance being the furthest Ole Miss has advanced since 2010.

Ole Miss (11-11) and the 14th-ranked Lady Vols (16-6) were evenly matched from jump to finish, with both teams nearly splitting the lead time right down the middle. The Rebel defense led a ferocious charge in the second quarter to erase what had been an eight-point deficit in the first, and helped propel Ole Miss to an eight-point lead of their own heading into the fourth quarter. However, Tennessee turned on the jets in the final frame, winning it 28-15.

The Rebels, to their credit, never gave in. Even when facing a nine-point hole with less than three minutes to play, Ole Miss dug deep to keep the dream alive. This gritty display of resilience culminated with Donnetta Johnson picking the pocket of Rae Burrell for a crucial steal with 14 seconds left while the entire arena was yelling for her to foul. It was a gutsy move that nearly paid off, as her pull-up three-point attempt to tie the game hit the back of the rim and the second chance opportunity came up in smoke.

It appeared the out-of-bounds play with 6.5 seconds left would give the Rebels one more chance at sending the game to overtime, but an official review reversed the call, thus sealing the fate for Ole Miss.

The Rebels now await to hear in regards to a potential postseason berth. If selected to the NCAA Tournament, it would be their first trip to the Big Dance since the 2006-07 Elite Eight team. The Rebels owned a NET of 43 entering Friday, and over their previous four games had played teams with an average NET of 13.5 and a combined record of 78-20.

“If we’re not a NCAA tournament team, then who is?” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “With our COVID issues in the beginning of conference play, snowstorm issues, then continuously proving ourselves by beating quadrant one teams, then going on the road to Tennessee, losing by one, then tonight by five when our star player hurts her back to start the fourth quarter? Absolutely we’re an NCAA tournament team. We’re fun to watch. We play a great style. We’re in the best league in the country. If we get in, we’re going to wreak havoc in the NCAA Tournament. I hope they consider all of this. We have more Quadrant One wins than a lot of these conferences that they’re saying are in. They don’t even have top-25 wins. We have three of them versus teams that are in the top-16 in the country. We definitely should be in. And ask any SEC coach.”

In a game where Tennessee just led 32 seconds more of the contest, the Rebels shot 43 percent (28-for-65) from the floor while coming up with a whopping 23 turnovers and 13 steals defensively. Johnson capped off the night with 20 points (9-for-19 FG) to lead Ole Miss, while Shakira Austin had 14 points and seven rebounds before battling an injury late in the game during that key Lady Vol run. Freshman Jacorriah Bracey finished with a career-high 13 points (5-for-10 FG) while also going 3-for-6 beyond the arc. On the other side, Rennia Davis scored 33 points (10-for-19 FG, 2-for-3 3FG) and came away with 14 rebounds. Rae Burrell overcame a slow start with an 18-point outing, including a few clutch baskets that gave Tennessee an edge down the stretch.

Both teams turned the ball over twice right out of the gate as Tennessee used a pair of three-pointers and two Davis layups to go up 10-6 going into the first media timeout. Ole Miss couldn’t connect on six of their previous seven shots. The Rebels came out of the timeout on fire from the field with buckets from three different players. However, they still trailed 24-16 at the end of the first quarter after Jordan Horston knocked down a last second shot beyond half court.

After Madison Scott picked up her third foul to begin the second quarter, the Rebels cut their deficit to 26-24 with six minutes left in the first half. Snudda Collins drained a corner three to retake the lead, capping off a 7-0 run going into the final media timeout of the first half, up 27-26. 

Bracey briefly extended the run with a midrange jumper. After Tennessee tied the game, Johnson scored four consecutive points to make it a multi-possession lead. Mimi Reid followed that up with her first points beyond the arc while Austin made a layup-and-one to go up 41-34 with 37 seconds left in the half. Davis sank another last second triple for Tennessee as they trailed 41-37 going into the locker room. 

The Rebels shot 50 percent (17-for-34) from the floor and forced 12 turnovers defensively, including eight steals. Johnson led the Rebels with 10 points (5-for-8 FG) while Austin and Collins each added seven points. On the other end, it was Davis and Horston that paced the Lady Vols with a combined 30 points. 

Both teams went back-and-forth to begin the third quarter while Ole Miss bordering foul trouble across the board. After Tennessee used a 6-0 run to tie the game, Austin’s free throw and Bracey’s second made three-pointer gave Ole Miss a 51-47 with 3:47 left in the third quarter. The Rebels ended the quarter on an 8-2 and led 57-49 going into the final quarter.

With Austin out of the lineup due to apparent injury, the Lady Vols scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to tie the ball game once again. Free throws from Walker gave Tennessee a 61-59 lead with 6:49 left to play with Austin back on the court. Bracey gave Ole Miss back the lead just like that with a three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer. Walker’s three-pointer gave the Lady Vols their largest lead of the second half at 68-62 under four minutes left. 

Tennessee proceeded to go on a 12-2 run to take a nine-point lead with just over two minutes left. The Rebels continued to battle, going on a 6-0 run and forcing Tennessee into a timeout up 73-70 with 56 seconds left. Davis made two free throws with 24.1 on the clock to give Tennessee a 75-70 lead. Reid responded with two free throws of her own to make it a one possession game again. With four seconds left and up three points, Davis made two free throws to send Ole Miss back to Oxford with a hard-fought loss.

The NCAA Selection Show is slated for Monday, March 15 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. The NCAA Tournament is set to begin March 21 in San Antonio, Texas.


Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports

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