DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Ole Miss Sports News) – The Ole Miss women’s basketball team battled back from a rough first quarter and slowed a potent Pitt offense to a crawl, but couldn’t quite catch the Panthers in a 58-50 loss as they pulled away with less than 30 seconds left to close the Daytona Beach Invitational on Saturday night.
It looked as if Pitt (3-4) would run with the game after an electric first quarter that saw five Panther three-pointers, but the Rebels (5-3) buckled down on defense, stymieing the Panthers to just two treys the remainder of the game and forcing 20 total turnovers. Ole Miss responded offensively as well, ripping off what amounted to a 20-5 run across the second and third quarters that included a 4:28 Pitt scoring drought, but the Rebels ended up getting out-rebounded 45-32 and missed a handful of opportunities to keep the game within reach down the stretch.
“We just couldn't get stops and make shots when we needed to,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “We didn't get rebounds when we needed to. If we want to win games, we have to get stops. We had opportunities to get the ball so we could go in transition, and we didn't. We gave them offensive rebounds. The rebounds hurt us tonight.”
That first quarter belonged solely to Pitt’s Aysia Bugg, who dropped nine of her 20 points and all three of her three-pointers in the opening frame amidst a flurry of Panther three-point shooting. No Rebel opponent had hit more than five threes in a game this season, but Pitt matched that in the first frame before hitting seven total on the evening.
The Rebels did not panic, though, closing the first half on an 11-3 run while hitting six of its last eight field goals in the quarter to pull within seven points at the break, trailing 34-27.
“They were just hot, we had to weather the storm,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We knew that it wasn't going to keep happening the rest of the game. They hit one three in the second half. We just had to weather the storm.”
Ole Miss brought unrivaled energy out of halftime, with Mimi Reid getting the party started with her patented jelly roll, kicking off a 9-2 run amidst the aforementioned Panther scoring drought. The Rebels snagged their first and only lead of the night after Valerie Nesbitt (14 points, six rebounds, five steals, two assists) caught an errant pass and laid it in on the other end of the court for a 41-40 Ole Miss lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
Pitt drained a late three-pointer, though, in the closing minutes to take a 43-41 lead and some momentum into the final frame. That setup what wound up as a war of attrition in the fourth quarter, with neither offense pulling away. A Deja Cage (10 points, five rebounds, three assists) floater with 48.1 seconds remaining brought it back to a three-point game at 53-50, but a foul called on Mimi Reid beyond the three-point arc with 22.3 seconds left gave Pitt three free tries from the charity stripe. Aysia Bugg hit all three of them to make it a 56-50 game, putting the game out of reach prior to the 58-50 final.
“I felt like it was going to be a low scoring game,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I just thought that we needed to make winning plays and we didn't. In order to win games like this, you have to make winning plays and I don't think that we did.”
Valerie Nesbitt was the star of the show again for Ole Miss, putting the team on her back down the stretch with 10 of her 14 points coming in the second half. Across both games at the Daytona Beach Invitational, Nesbitt averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game – including 13.5 points per game in the second half alone. Dominique Banks was also crucial for the Rebels again, recording her third career double-digit game with 10 points and four rebounds. Sophomore Iyanla Kitchens chipped in seven points and four boards as well.
Up next, Ole Miss heads to Texas Tech to take on the Lady Raiders as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Dec. 4.
“(Tonight) was our first time playing a team like this, a power five team,” McPhee-McCuin said. “(Pitt) came out and punched us in the mouth. Now we know what it's like. You have to play every possession versus power five teams. You can't just come out and be bigger and stronger, that is not going to happen. Because of it, we did not come out of it with a victory. So, we have to learn from this and keep going."
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