OXFORD, Miss. - The Ole Miss women’s basketball team fed off an energetic Kids Day crowd of 6,574 in a wild game against Georgia Southern on Monday morning, with the Rebels prevailing in overtime, 69-66.
This is just the second overtime game in the last five years for the Rebels (6-5), who overcame a long scoring drought in the third quarter to force a competitive fourth frame. The Eagles (2-6) did not go quietly, though, erasing an eight-point Ole Miss lead in the final 3:12 of regulation – ultimately forcing overtime on a made layup with 25 seconds to play by GSU’s Jaiden Hamilton for her only bucket of the contest.
The Rebels had a chance to put the game away on the next possession, but a turnover called with four seconds remaining handed the ball back to the Eagles. Despite having two attempts in those for seconds for the win, both shots fell outside the rim before the buzzer went off.
Ole Miss showed little patience in overtime, immediately jumping out to a 66-60 lead thanks to an opening layup by Valerie Nesbitt before Mimi Reid notched four of her seven points on a layup of her own and two free throws. Georgia Southern would cut the lead to three with 14 seconds left after back-to-back layups by Nikki McDonald (26 points, nine rebounds), but it would be as close as the Eagles would get as the Rebels hung on for the win.
“I’m glad we found out a way to get a victory,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “This is a tough time to coach, with it being the holiday season and with the young group that we have. I thought that we handled adversity well. Right now for me, with this group, it’s about finding wins, and we had a couple today.”
A significant factor in the Rebel win was a second-half resilience led by junior Valerie Nesbitt. Ole Miss bounced back from a 37-percent shooting effort in the first half to drain 50 percent of its shots in the second half. Furthermore, the Rebels failed to let a 6:47 scoring drought in the third quarter derail the game, buckling down on defense to keep the Eagles at bay before setting up the wild fourth quarter.
“I thought that we responded in the right way,” McPhee-McCuin said. “There was never a moment for me where I felt like we wouldn’t win this game. It was just a peace that I felt as we competed for 45 minutes.”
Nesbitt led that charge, scoring 11 of her 16 points in the second half and overtime. In her last five games, she has averaged 14.8 points overall and 9.6 points in the second half alone, but her success on Monday wasn’t solely on her shoulders, as she also chipped in six assists as one of two Rebels with at least five alongside Mimi Reid (seven points, five assists, three rebounds).
“Val really wants to win. Val is a competitor,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We’re teaching her how to be competitive about the right things. Through the course of it, you’re just seeing her evolve into the type of player that she could potentially be. The last game, she had eight turnovers because she was really trying to win it for everybody. I told her that her intent was good, but what she did didn’t work for us. So now, she has six assists, one turnover, because she realizes that she doesn’t have to do it herself and that she needs the team.”
Senior Torri Lewis also had a big day, helping the Rebels to their best three-point shooting effort of the season with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Freshman Jayla Alexander chipped in 11 points and five rebounds with a 2-of-3 clip from distance as well, but it was junior Dominique Banks who proved invaluable on defense.
Banks served up several timely blocks, ending with eight rejections to go along with her eight points and six rebounds – the second-most blocks in a single game in Ole Miss history and the second-most by any player in the SEC this season.
“Dominique is a big help for us,” Nesbitt said. “We aren’t scared to get beat on defense, we know she’s got our backs. We just do what we need to do on the ball, and we just know she’s there.”
The win on Monday pushed Ole Miss to 17-0 on Kids Day games, and the crowd of 6,574 stands as the seventh-best crowd in Rebel women’s basketball history.
“(Kids Day) is just the best day ever,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I told our players that they have a responsibility to be a positive example and play the game the right way for these kids. And not only just the girls, boys too. I just think sports has a way of teaching respect, no matter your race or gender, so it was pretty cool to see them come out and cheer.”
Ole Miss remains at home this Friday (Dec. 20) when it hosts Louisiana, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. CT inside The Pavilion.