Jan. 16, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
Ole Miss had cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 70-67 after a made 3-pointer by senior guard Valencia McFarland with 3:32 left in the game.
On the other end, the Rebels forced a missed shot, but the Commodores grabbed the offensive rebound and then made two free throws to stretch the lead to 72-67 and went on to win, 80-74, on Thursday night at the Tad Smith Coliseum.
That one rebound, head coach Matt Insell said, was the difference against No. 24/No. 25 Vanderbilt, as well as previous losses to No. 9 Baylor and Missouri.
“We’re one rebound away from breaking through and getting a big, big win,” he said. “I was hoping that it was tonight because we came out and battled. They battled from the opening tip, and I was proud of them for that.”
McFarland led all scorers with a career-high 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting, to go along with eight assists. Junior forward Tia Faleru added 20 points and five rebounds, and senior forward Kenyotta Jenkins also finished in double figures with 10 points and four rebounds off the bench.
As a team, Ole Miss shot 55.8 percent (29-of-52) from the field, including 68 percent (17-of-25) in the first half. Defensively, Ole Miss allowed Vanderbilt to shoot 57.1 percent (32-of-56) from the field, but Insell said the defensive effort was much improved compared to this past Sunday’s 93-79 loss at Alabama.
“We gave the effort that I’m asking them to give today, and that’s the thing I have been harping on them defensively,” he said. “Sunday was all about defensive effort, and we didn’t play hard defensively. Tonight, we played hard, and Vanderbilt is a tough, tough team to guard defensively.
“We made Vanderbilt get late in the shot clock, and that’s where we have to start digging and make that play that can help us win a game there.”
With the loss, Ole Miss moves to 9-9 overall and 0-4 in Southeastern Conference play. The Rebels return to the road, as they travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to play Arkansas on Sunday at 2 p.m.
“We’re getting closer and closer each game, so we’re trying to stay positive,” Faleru said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow and work hard. We know that if we take this game into the Arkansas game, then it’s going to be a good game.”
“They know that there’s a process, and we’re in a middle of a process right now,” Insell said. “I’m prepared for this. I want to get a lot more W’s. I want to have 20 wins every year. We’re going to fight, and we still have 12 games left in SEC play. We’re attacking every day like we’re going to win all 12 of them. If something happens on Sunday where we don’t win that one, we’re going to attack come next Thursday and win all 11 of them. We’re just going to keep fighting every single day. I’m not going to let this team quit because I’m not going to quit on them.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller