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Ole Miss rallies, defeats Tennessee for first time in 21 years

The long, orange nightmare is over.

The last time the Ole Miss women earned a victory over the prestigious Tennessee Volunteers, Jeff Goldblum had yet to save the world with a virus via Microsoft Windows. That stat is now obsolete as the Rebels held serve at home and rallied from 13 points down to defeat Tennessee 67-62 on Thursday night.

It was the 12th straight win inside the Pavilion, keeping Ole Miss perfect at home on the year and ended a two-game losing skid. It is the first win over Tennessee since a 78-72 win on Feb. 4, 1996. Since then Tennessee had won the last 28 games. This is the best start at home for the Rebels since winning 15 straight over the course of the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons.

“I dont know if I can have a happier feeling as a head coach, than I have right now,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell said. “Not because we beat Tennessee. It’s just about where our team has come over a four-year stand. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Right there is a prime example about belief.”

Ole Miss (13-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) came out firing to start the game, jumping out to a 21-11 after the first eight minutes. While the first quarter was lopsided in the Rebels’ favor, the second quarter was just as one-sided in favor of Tennessee (10-6, 2-2). Sloppy play and turnovers by Ole Miss allowed the Volunteers to steal the momentum away for a 21-6 second quarter, taking a 32-27 halftime lead.

Tennessee climbed their way back into the game and the lead thanks to the play of junior Jaime Nared. The 6-foot-2 guard scored 17 of her game-high 23 points in the first half, shooting 70 percent from the floor at one point in the second quarter. Nared was not as effective in the second half, scoring only six points.

“I think the first half I was being more aggressive and the second half I was kind of just shooting just to shoot,” Nared said. “We became a little stagnant with our offense and just driving and not really focusing on the basket.”

Tennessee opened the second half like they closed the first half, starting out with a 10-2 run for a 42-29 lead. From there the momentum shifted with the Rebels using an 11-0 run late in the third quarter and closed the gap to a 49-47 lead for the Volunteers. Ole Miss continued to outscore Tennessee in the fourth quarter, 20-13, to hold on for the rare victory.

The Volunteers other key scorers were held in check as Mercedes Russell (12 points) and Diamond DeShields (13) were both held under their season averages.

Bench play was crucial for Ole Miss and at a premium, as the Rebels only scored eight points to Tennessee’s two. Bretta Hart accounted for two of those points, but it was what she did during her 10 minutes on the floor, especially the second half, that helped Ole Miss get back in the game. Hart was the only player to foul out, but earned the majority of them in the fourth quarter while she gave Shequila Joseph a rest.

“I put Bretta Hart in, the biggest 10 minutes of the game,” Insell said. “You want pinpoint somebody that turned the game. Bretta Hart turned the game in 10 minutes. 10 minutes, five fouls. She made (Tennessee) earn them, every one of them. She was able to get in there and battle and cause some chaos, which allowed (Joseph) to get back in there and lock back in.”

Madinah Muhammad led the Rebels with 21 points while Shandricka Sessom followed with 14. Erika Sisk added nine points and Taylor Manuel chipped in eight.

After a brief stop back home, Ole Miss must hit the road again next week against No. 4 Mississippi State on Monday and No. 5 South Carolina next Thursday.