How Ole Miss secured its first win against Mississippi State women's basketball since 2014

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OXFORD — It was going to catch up with the Mississippi State women’s basketball team eventually.

The Bulldogs overcame these same long odds in their previous two games, playing with a shorthanded roster and without much size to beat Alabama and Vanderbilt. But on Sunday against Ole Miss at The Pavilion, the shortcomings Mississippi State is trying to play through were glaring, allowing the Rebels (15-2, 3-1 SEC) to cruise to a 86-71 win, their first against the Bulldogs (11-5, 2-2) since Feb. 23, 2014.

"It's been a long time coming," Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said.

The issues for Mississippi State began from the opening tipoff, when 5-foot-9 guard JerKaila Jordan found herself guarding 6-5 center Shakira Austin — a matchup born out of desperation, with forwards Denae Carter and Raven Farley out.

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AS IT HAPPENED: Mississippi State women's basketball and Ole Miss face off

The issues continued on Mississippi State’s next three possessions, with poor passes leading to three turnovers. At halftime, there was a confrontation between two players that made guard Anastasia Hayes late to return to the bench, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. She returned shortly into the third quarter and finished the game.

Interim coach Doug Novak said after the game there was "tension in communication with some players who haven't played together for a while."

In all, it was a Sunday to forget for Mississippi State — and one to remember for Ole Miss, breaking a 14-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.

“I think we showed who’s the best right now. That’s us. We plan on doing that again when we go to Starkville," McPhee-McCuin said. "It means a lot. It means a lot for the community. Every year I’ve been here we’ve beat ranked teams. And it wasn’t enough. Everyone would say, ‘Oh, when are we going to get those ‘Dogs?’

"That’s what people want to know. That’s important to people. I’ve not been stressed for any game thus far, but this one I was very stressed. It’s almost as if nothing matters if you can’t win this game. That’s really not true, but it is in some people’s eyes.”

Suffocating press

It’s hard to score when each trip down the floor becomes a chore to even cross the half-court line. That’s what Ole Miss does to teams, with a 1-2-2 press meant to stifle offenses before they set up in a half-court set.

The Rebels rank No. 9 in the country in scoring defense, and No. 12 in steals. They followed that line trend against Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs had more first-half turnovers (13) than rebounds (12) or baskets (11). They managed to score 0.703 points per possession in the opening half, and while the play improved in the second half, the hole didn’t grow any smaller on a blowout defeat.

Forward Madison Scott led the way for Ole Miss with three steals, and Austin and Lashonda Monk each added two more.

"I was kind of surprised that they struggled with (the press) so I just never came out of it," McPhee-McCuin said. "We have a size advantage. We’re bigger and longer so I thought that we took away vision. Myah Taylor can play. I thought that we really took away vision. She couldn’t see the floor. Then you have (Austin) in the back and we have good size. So it did what it was supposed to do."

Height discrepancy

Jordan tried to put a hand in Austin’s face during a second-quarter jump shot. The problem: Her hand wound up short of her face — and the ball — allowing Austin an almost uncontested attempt. Austin finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

That was the most obvious mismatch, but the height discrepancy was all over the court. And it led to a severe rebounding difference, with Ole Miss pulling in 43 boards compared to the Bulldogs’ 23.

"(Jordan) knew yesterday she was going to play the five," Novak said. "She battled and figured out positioning on the fly. It seemed like we were playing everybody somewhere different."

Mississippi State has been undersized all season, but the absence of the 6-foot Carter didn’t help. The forward is the SEC’s reigning freshman of the week and the team’s leading rebounder.

"It didn’t matter at all," McPhee-McCuin said. "She’s 5-foot-10, no? And a freshman. How’s she going to stop a top-3, in my opinion No. 1 draft pick. It’s impossible. It didn’t matter to me. They have their guards, they’re the ones that fill up the stat sheet. It’s no disrespect to her but our game plan stayed consistent. Whether she was here, it would not have changed."

The end of a streak

Mississippi State had dominated the series against Ole Miss since 2014, winning 14 straight games.

Mississippi State is a program in flux, with an interim coach and an uncertain future. Ole Miss appears to be on the rise.

"It did not go our way at all," Novak said. "I was proud that we stayed in the fight in the fourth quarter to keep on competing, because the way we started was not good. But great rivalry. It's fun to play in those environments, and it's misery to lose in them."

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: How Ole Miss handily beat Mississippi State women's basketball