In front of a home crowd that was seemingly outnumbered 2-to-1 in favor of the maroon and white, Ole Miss went down early and never recovered en route to the 69-49 loss against No. 2 Mississippi State in their second meeting this season Sunday afternoon.
After beginning the game on a 0-12 run, Ole Miss was unable to penetrate the Mississippi State defense, locked down both in the paint and on the perimeter. Anchoring the defensive front for the Bulldogs was Teaira McCowan, who kept the Rebel guards from driving while the post play of Shelby Gibson and Promise Taylor put up a hard-fought battle.
“We were not real tough to start the game,” head coach Matt Insell said. “They got after us, they got up the line, they were real physical and we backed down to start the game.”
With just over five minutes remaining in the quarter, junior guard Barbara Johnson was fouled and converted both free throws to put Ole Miss on the board.
Soon after, McCowan, Mississippi State’s leading scorer, who put up 25 points in the previous meeting between the two teams, received her second foul of the quarter. After being subbed out, the 6-foot-7 center did not see the court for the remainder of the first half, but it would not make a difference.
Led by Bulldogs Victoria Vivians and Morgan Williams’ combined 12 points, the first quarter came to a close with the visitors ahead 19-4.
“We put ourselves in a hole,” Insell said. “19-4 to start the game, you just can’t do that.”
The second quarter began similarly for both teams, and the Rebels struggled to maintain a strong defensive presence, allowing the Mississippi State guards to run rampant.
Ole Miss began to find a rhythm when Alissa Alston scored a lay up with less than five minutes left in the half. The mojo started to flow, albeit briefly, as Alston put three more points on the board before her Rebel counterparts found their way to the charity stripe, although they were unable to convert on each of their opportunities. The half finished with the score 18-39 in favor of the Bulldogs.
One of the glaring issues in the first half was Ole Miss’ ongoing struggle with fouls. The Rebels put up 11 team fouls in the first half, gifting 14 points to Mississippi State. Alston led the sheet with three personal fouls, and Taylor followed with two of her own.
At the start of the third quarter, McCowan returned to the court for Mississippi State and contributed immediately with two points in less than two minutes, but she was taken out because of another personal foul. She returned for the last minute and a half, but the Bulldogs’ star did not affect her team’s play or what continued to be an insurmountable lead over the Rebels.
“Taylor guarded (McCowan) for 17 minutes and blocked and altered a lot of shots and made Teaira go 3 for 9,” Insell said. “I don’t know if you can find a game where she has had that poor of a shooting game because she is so much bigger and stronger than most players in the country.”
Although the Rebels remained down at the end of the third quarter, Madinah Muhammad was a bright spot, scoring eight points on three consecutive possessions. Despite her offensive groove, Ole Miss never found its way back into the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Rebels continued to fight, but the deficit was too large to overcome, and the Bulldogs ultimately triumphed 69-49.
“We will be back. We will be alright. Our bunch will be ready to play come Thursday,” Insell said.