Rebels Close SEC Tournament and Season After 59-50 Loss to Missouri
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ole Miss women's basketball kept up the defensive pressure that helped the Rebels prevail over Florida in the First Round, but a hard-nosed Missouri squad was able to hold Ole Miss at bay, 59-50, to end the Rebels' season in the Second Round of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.
The Rebels forced a season-high 24 turnovers and improved on the glass against a physically dominant Missouri squad, but the Tigers used a 48.6 percent shooting effort and a 13-4 advantage in the third quarter to survive and advance against an Ole Miss squad that caught a second wind in the Tournament.
"Hats off to Missouri," said Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell. "I thought we played really well defensively, we just couldn't get shots to go, particularly in that third quarter."
"Our kids never gave up, they kept fighting until the bitter end, and I'm just real proud of them for that," Insell continued.
The Ole Miss defense -- which in the last three games has held opponents to 60 or fewer points and forced a combined 63 turnovers -- helped shut down All-SEC selection Sophie Cunningham to zero points in the first half. Leading that charge defensively was Chyna Nixon, who scored seven points and had five boards in the effort tonight. Cunningham ended up with 11 points, but six of those came from the foul line and she did not score until the 9:00 mark of the third quarter.
"I was real proud of Chyna Nixon," Insell said. "She held one of the best players in the country to five attempts in Sophie Cunningham. That's a freshman guarding one of the best players in the country right there, and I was real proud of her for that."
Even with the intense Rebel defensive pressure, Missouri was still able to start the game 7-for-7 from the field in the first quarter and 9-of-10 overall to start. Ole Miss was able to stifle them to just 16.7 percent in the fourth quarter, but by then Mizzou's primary mode of offense was at the foul line -- where they were 20-of-28, as opposed to 8-of-12 for Ole Miss.
Ole Miss gained some momentum heading into halftime despite that early hot shooting start, closing the first half on a 12-3 run thanks to three consecutive three-point shots. Junior Madinah Muhammad -- who finished with 20 points and three rebounds, her 25th double-digit game and ninth 20-point game of the season -- sank the first two of those threes early in the shot clock with confidence, which helped paved the way for Chyna Nixon to drain one of her own to close the Tiger advantage to 28-26 heading into the break.
The Rebels struggled in that aforementioned third quarter, with Mizzou taking it 13-4 while holding the Ole Miss offense to just 11.8 shooting in the frame. The Tigers eventually built that into a 17-point lead by the 4:56 mark of the fourth quarter, but the Rebels clawed back late to bring it within 10 at the final score, 59-50.
Tonight's loss ends a tough 12-19 season for Ole Miss, but the Rebels return everyone currently on the roster for 2018-19, and will also see senior Shandricka Sessom and freshman Mimi Reid return from injuries that sidelined them the entire season.
"I'm really proud of our ladies," Insell said. "Obviously our season didn't go the way we wanted it to go. We had a lot go against us, we had a lot go wrong this year, and this is not the way we wanted to end it with this record. But in my book, our kids are winners to me. They fought every single day, tooth and nail, to get better. I saw a lot of players grow up here at this tournament and get better."
Looking ahead to next season, Madinah Muhammad and fellow junior Alissa Alston (10 points, five assists, three rebounds) return to form a formidable senior class with Sessom, and will potentially be able to use the trials and tribulations from this season to positive effect next year.
"There's no quit in Ole Miss," Muhammad said. "We've just got to keep on fighting. We looked at that as our last game, and we played as hard as we could."
Follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissWBB, Facebook at Ole Miss WBB on Instagram at Ole MissWBB and on Snapchat with the handle @OleMissWBB. Fans can also follow Ole Miss women's basketball head coach Matt Insell on Twitter at @minsell.
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