OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - They might have struggled for most of the game, but when it mattered, juniors Alissa Alston and Madinah Muhammad put the team on their shoulders and helped lead the Rebels to a wild 78-75 double-overtime victory over Florida on Sunday afternoon at The Pavilion.
Ole Miss (11-5, 1-2 SEC) had led for 36 minutes of regulation and had a 15-point lead at the 5:37 mark of the third quarter, but Florida (8-8, 0-3 SEC) chipped away at that Rebel advantage until the final seconds of the fourth quarter – setting up a tumultuous ride throughout both overtime periods.
“Great win for us,” said Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell. “It obviously had a lot of ups and downs. That game, for us, was won and lost about 10 or 11 times, but our kids just kept battling. I’m real proud of them.”
Season leading scorers Alissa Alston (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals) and Madinah Muhammad (11 points, nine assists) had been held to just 10 combined points in the first half and 14 combined by the end of regulation, but it was the Rebel bench that stepped up and gave Ole Miss its lead during regulation. The Rebels dominated the Gators in bench points at a 39-5 margin – with 36 coming from key reserves Promise Taylor (16 points, eight rebounds, three assists), Torri Lewis (12 points, 4-of-10 3PT) and Kate Rodgers (eight points, nine rebounds).
That bench scoring (and timely, rally-starting three-pointers by Lewis) helped Ole Miss to a 31-21 lead at halftime and a 49-39 lead after the third quarter, but the Gators came storming back with a 22-12 fourth to force overtime.
In the fourth, Florida shot 50 percent from the floor and put together a 7-0 run to cut the lead to one at 51-50 with 5:15 left to play. The Rebels responded down the stretch, but the Gators had an answer each time – eventually tying the game at the buzzer on a put-back layup by Dyandria Anderson (12 points, six rebounds) after a missed three-pointer for the win by Paulina Hersler (12 points, 11 rebounds).
It was overtime where Alston and Muhammad began to shine, with both combining for 11 total in both periods. The first overtime was the Alissa Alston show, during which she scored six points and a game-tying layup as time expired to force a second overtime.
Muhammad, meanwhile, took over the second overtime. She nailed a layup at the 1:21 mark to give Ole Miss a 74-72 lead, but Florida answered once again with a dagger three from leading scorer Haley Lorenzen (19 points, 10 rebounds) with 57 seconds to play.
The Rebels chipped away, though, sending Muhammad to the line four times in the final three seconds of play, where she knocked down all four to give Ole Miss the 78-75 victory.
“She struggled offensively for a majority of the night, but she found a way to get going there at the end and made some huge free throws,” Insell said.
Shooting wasn’t a specialty on the day, with both teams shooting a combined 55-of-150 (36.7 percent) from the floor and 18-of-68 (26.5 percent) from three, but timely shooting was on display for both teams – culminating in the clutch layup by Alston to force double-overtime and the free throws down the stretch by Muhammad.
“We had to be the more desperate team to get a win, and we were the more desperate team there,” Insell said.
With their first SEC win now under their belts, the Rebels face a tough test at rival No. 3/5 Mississippi State on Thurs., Jan. 11.