OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – The Ole Miss women’s basketball team endured another slow start in its second contest of the season, but in the final three quarters, the Rebels outscored Kennesaw State by 32 points to run away with a 92-63 victory.
Head coach Matt Insell was happy with the way his team responded after falling behind 10-2 to open the game. Ole Miss shot 53.7 percent from the floor, led by four players in double figures and six with nine or more points.
“Really proud of our basketball team. We’re growing. We’re getting better,” Insell said. “It was a bad start there for us in the first quarter, but I thought we settled in from that point forward and played pretty well. Offensively, we continue to click there. We scored 92 points—I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s pretty good.”
Similar to its opening night meeting with Northwestern State, Ole Miss stumbled out of the gates. Kennesaw State received early threes from Kamiyah Street and Janae Omusi to go up 10-2, prompting a timeout from Insell. The adjustments took hold quickly offensively, as freshman Promise Taylor scored back-to-back buckets down low right out of the timeout to quell the Owl run.
Taylor was a dominant force down low for the Rebels, finishing with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting with five rebounds and five blocks. In just her second collegiate game, the Issaquah, Washington, native helped her squad claim a 46-24 scoring advantage in the paint.
“She’s pretty good,” Insell said with a smile. “It’s a pretty simple offense: Throw it up and let her go catch it and put it in. But the best is yet to come. She’s not really shown all the things she can do. She’s a true freshman. She’s getting better every day. She’s a sponge. She wants to be coached. She’s really good right now, but the more and more she plays, the better and better she’s going to get.”
The Rebels cut the Owl lead to just three points after 10 minutes, and Taylor picked up where she left off in the second quarter, dropping the Rebels’ first bucket of the period to start the game 5-for-5. She tallied 14 in the first before passing the baton to Madinah Muhammad, who buried a corner three to give the Rebels a four-point lead, 38-34, at the half. Muhammad didn’t have the red-hot shooting stroke she had in the season opener, but she found other ways to contribute, finishing with 16 points, nine assists and five boards.
After the break, it was more of the same formula for Insell’s squad. Taylor continued her big night right out of the gates in the second half, working for a three-point play down low for the first points of the period. The freshman then turned in a big block on the other end, leading to a fast-break bucket by Shandricka Sessom. From there, the rout was on. Sessom knocked down one of her three 3-pointers on the night to move into double figures. Then another block by Taylor led to another breakaway layup by Sessom, making it a 12-2 Rebel run. The Byhalia, Mississippi, native then beat the third-quarter buzzer on a pull-up jumper to give Ole Miss a 13-point advantage going into the fourth. The senior had an excellent night, flirting with a double-double, tallying team-highs with 23 points and nine rebounds.
Sophomore Shelby Gibson was the fourth Rebel in double figures, going a perfect 5-for-5 for 10 points, including the game’s last bucket.
Juniors Torri Lewis and Barbara Johnson nearly joined the double-figure club as well, finishing with nine points apiece. Lewis’ points all came from behind the arc. Johnson broke the game open early in the fourth quarter, picking Kennesaw State’s pocket on back-to-back plays, leading to four easy fast-break points and a 20-point, 70-50 lead for Ole Miss.
“Barbara Johnson is realistically a true freshman in our program. She’s a junior college transfer, but she has a lot to learn from a scheme standpoint,” Insell said. “She had some struggles early tonight. I’m on her really hard and I’m really proud of her. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world, because she’s going to be a really good player for us.”
The Rebels will now hit the road for the first time in the 2017-18 season, as they head to Chicago for a four-team tournament, the Maggie Dixon Classic, alongside Saint Louis, Delaware State and host DePaul. Ole Miss will take on Saint Louis in the opening game while Delaware State and DePaul meet on the opposite side of the bracket.
“We’ve got our hands full Friday night with Saint Louis. If we can get by them, obviously DePaul is a very good team,” Insell said. “I can’t remember the last time there was an NCAA tournament and they were not there. We’ve got Madinah Muhammad getting to go home to Chicago, and I know she’s really excited about that. We’re excited about going up there.”
The Rebels and the Billikens will meet at 4 p.m. CT on Friday at McGrath-Phillips Arena.