OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell preached toughness in every facet of the game in his pregame speech. As it turned out, the Rebels relied on exactly that to rally to victory over Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
The Rebels' senior leader, Shandricka Sessom, went down with a knee injury at the 2:01 mark of the opening quarter, and Ole Miss trailed by 12 after the opening period, but a tremendous second-half rally carried them through in a 65-56 win.
"We'll know more on Shandricka in the morning," Insell said. "I feel bad for her. She's such a great kid. She's in great spirits. She's smiling. We've got a lot of injuries right now, but it's next man up. We've got players playing in positions they've never played before right now, but you tell them what do to do and they do it. I'm so proud of them."
The Blue Raider defense frustrated the Rebels in the early going, as they were held without a field goal through the first 9:26. Ole Miss found itself behind 17-5 after one quarter and trailed 26-17 at the half, but a dominant third quarter flipped the script, giving the advantage to the home team.
"I was just so proud of our team. Every adjustment we asked them to make at halftime, they made it," Insell said. "We came out in the second half and just battled through."
A key four-point sequence early in the second half set the tone for the remainder of the contest. The Rebels drew a foul after a made free throw by junior Alissa Alston, and junior Madinah Muhammad capitalized, burying a corner three to make it a five-point game. The Chicago native hit another three shortly thereafter, setting the stage for freshman Chyna Nixon to hit two free throws on the following possession to tie it at 28.
Alston gave the Rebels their first lead with two makes at the stripe, where she was 14-of-16 at the free throw line on the night, two shy of the single-game record of 16 set by Rebel great, and the team’s current coordinator of player engagement, Armintie Herrington. The New Haven, Connecticut, native finished with a team-high 22 points.
After claiming the lead, Ole Miss never looked back. Junior Torri Lewis went back-to-back from beyond the arc to give the Rebels some breathing room as they used a 23-3 run to take a 46-37 lead into the final period.
The Blue Raiders battled back, cutting the deficit to just four in the final two minutes of play, but the Rebels finished the job at the free throw line to give their head coach his first win against his father, Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell.
"Really good win for our team. Really gutsy performance," Insell said. "We beat a really good basketball team today. Couldn't be more proud of our team, couldn't be more proud to be their coach. I love every single one of them."
Ole Miss returns to action Saturday. The Rebels will host Arkansas State at 3 p.m. CT as part of a doubleheader at The Pavilion.