GREENVILLE, SC (WLBT) - The Ole Miss women’s basketball team kept the SEC’s best three-point shooter scoreless for the first half, but a second-half resurgence by Florida’s Funda Nakkasoglu helped lead the Gators to a 64-57 win over the Rebels at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Wednesday morning, knocking Ole Miss out of the 2019 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Both teams shot a combined 25 percent in a defensive struggle of a first half, during which the Rebel defense shut down Nakkasoglu and held the Gators to 22 percent from the floor and 7.1 percent from three. Florida took control in the third quarter, though, shooting 55 percent in the frame en route to a 25-14 advantage. Ole Miss fought hard in the fourth quarter, winning the frame, 27-21, but falling just short at the 64-57 final.
“Obviously a disappointing loss,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “Nobody wants to go home on the first day, but I am well aware that someone has to and it just happened to be us.”
Ole Miss was also plagued by 18 turnovers that were turned into 22 Gator points, but the story of the game was the second half emergence of Nakkasoglu and Delicia Washington, who both ended up with 17 points to pace Florida.
“I thought we lost sight of Funda (Nakkasoglu) and she made us pay,” McPhee-McCuin said. “When she hit a couple of shots, it gave the rest of their team an incredible amount of confidence. I thought they just ran with it. The margin of error was super small in this game, and when we allowed them to just make two of them it was enough to separate.”
Rebel senior Crystal Allen did her best to make up the difference, scoring 20 of her 22 in the second half. Allen, the SEC’s third-best scorer in her lone season in a Rebel uniform at 18.3 points per game, ends her career with 1,399 career points scored – 571 of which came just this year at Ole Miss. Allen was the offensive catalyst for the Rebels all season long, particularly down the stretch. Of her 14 games with 20 points or more, six came within her last seven games – during which she averaged 22.4 PPG.
“(This season) has been great,” Allen said. “I was coming from the Sun Belt conference and for this to be my first year (at Ole Miss), I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that I had. I got an opportunity to play in one of the best conferences in the land and we played against some of the top teams, such as Kentucky, and we ended up beating them on their home floor. There are a lot of accomplishments that we had this season. I know that it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but it is what it is and I just thank God for this opportunity that I was given and I tried to take advantage of it as much as I could.”
Fellow graduate transfer La’Karis Salter was also in double digits at 11 points and seven rebounds.
Today’s loss caps the 2018-19 season for first-year head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, with the Rebels record standing at 9-22. Ole Miss held a 3-13 record in SEC play, which included two more conference wins than last season and the first ranked road win for the Rebels since 2011 when Ole Miss won in Lexington on Jan. 13 for the first time since 2007.
“When I got this gig, I had two players that were healthy and that was it,” McPhee-McCuin said. “And then I hired a staff and put a team together and we got our last player in September. And they picked us last and we didn’t finish last, and we even knocked off a ranked team and did some incredible things. The future is bright. Our kids gave all they had and the staff definitely did and I am looking forward to the future.”
Ole Miss loses seniors like Allen, Salter, Cecilia Muhate and Shandricka Sessom, but also return a freshman class of Gabby Crawford, Iyanla Kitchens, Mahogany Matthews, Mimi Reid and Taylor Smith that saw significant playing time this season – with Crawford, Matthews and Smith all starting today in their first career SEC Tournament games.
“I feel like the freshmen, I tried to set a standard for them,” Allen said. “Outside of practice, I have always tried to take advantage of the time that I had getting into the gym and taking extra shots. And the fact that I did that, and to see the young freshmen get into the gym, they started getting into the gym more than I did. If they stick together this year, next year, and years to come, I feel like the future is very bright for them and they will have a lot of success.”
“I really enjoyed this team,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I thought that they represented the university at a high level. I gave them all that I had, and so did my staff. I am just excited about the future.”