DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Ole Miss Athletics) – The Ole Miss women's basketball team leaned on its defense in the first half and a multi-pronged offensive attack in the latter half toward a 73-55 win over Alcorn State to open the Daytona Beach Invitational on Friday night.
The Rebels (5-2) won their third straight after shooting an efficient 51.7 percent from the field overall while holding the Lady Braves (3-5) to just 31 percent on the night – 18.9 percent in a defensively dominant first half. Both teams exploded offensively in the second half, scoring a combined 87 points, but the Rebel trio of Valerie Nesbitt (20 points), Dominique Banks (15 points) and Taylor Smith (13 points) combined for 35 points in the second half by themselves.
"I was glad we came out in the second half and played with better energy and intensity," said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. "I feel like in the beginning in the first two quarters we were doing a good job defensively, but I didn't think we were as aggressive on the offensive end. Nevertheless, we started to get our groove and share the ball."
Ole Miss jumped out of the gates hot, winning the first quarter 15-6 and beginning what would wind up as a 17-0 run across the first two quarters amidst a 10:22 Alcorn State scoring drought that lasted from 4:25 left in the first quarter until the 4:03 mark of the second.
"We want to be known as a defensive unit, and so that's something we have to continue to work on by taking care of business defensively to give us easier opportunities on the offensive end," McPhee-McCuin said.
Alcorn, though, closed the frame on a 9-0 run to close the Rebel lead to 25-16 at the break.
Both teams lit the net up in the third quarter, tying 20-20 on a combined 16-of-31 (51.6 percent) shooting line, but it was junior Dominique Banks that put the team on her back and kept the Rebels ahead. Banks, who ended with her first career double-double at 15 points and 14 rebounds (the most rebounds by a Rebel since Bretta Hart hauled in 18 vs. Western Kentucky on Dec. 2, 2015), scored nine of her 15 in the third quarter alone.
The fourth quarter was the Valerie Nesbitt show, who was playing in front of her mom for the first time since leaving the Bahamas after high school. Nesbitt scored 15 of her career-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, including the last 11 points not scored from the free throw line for Ole Miss. Taylor Smith scored six of her 13 in the final frame as well to help the Rebels toward a 28-19 advantage in the fourth quarter.
The Rebels out-rebounded Alcorn State by a wide 52-32 margin and dominated the Lady Braves in the paint, 42-16.
"I saw a lot of different people step up and do different things," McPhee-McCuin said. "It was exciting to see our posts get involved on the offensive end by running the floor and making tough baskets. I just think we're continuing to be a work in progress. I think our strength is in the team. Like I said before, we'll have a different person that is the leading scorer for us every single night because we are team-oriented."
Ole Miss now has a quick turnaround, squaring off against Pitt (2-4) at 4:45 p.m. CT on Saturday.
"Now we're going to watch film and get prepared for Pitt," McPhee-McCuin said. "Totally different ball game, and we're looking forward to the opportunity.