The No. 20 Tennessee Lady Vols (11-3, 5-1 SEC) held on to beat Ole Miss (7-6, 1-6 SEC) 68-67 Thursday night.
Tennessee came out sloppy against Ole Miss committing seven turnovers in the first quarter with six coming in the first five minutes. To begin the game the Lady Vols had no answers for the stifling and aggressive defense they were facing. Tennessee quickly found itself in a hole down 10 by the end of the quarter.
Shakira Austin and Snudda Collins lead the charge for Ole Miss with six and five points respectively. Austin finished with 16 and Collins finished with 13. Their leading scorer, though, was Donnetta Johnson who scored 19 in the contest.
Tennessee also took a blow during the first quarter when starting freshman forward Marta Suarez exited the game a minute after the tip-off. She would not return to the game and later sported a boot on her right foot coming out of the half. This injury left just 10 active players on Tennessee’s roster.
“We’ve not practiced her much since our last game and are trying to give her some rest,” Kellie Harper said on the injury. “She has a foot injury, and as of right now, to be honest with you, I don’t know her status. We knew we were going to try to rest her and get her through a game to see how she did. Obviously, we knew at the tip that we weren’t going to be able to play her and that was unfortunate. I’ll tell you; she has played really well for us. That was a big blow for our team. Obviously, the depth in that position was already slim. So, that hurt us to start the game. We’ll just have to figure that out.”
The Lady Vols quickly fell to their largest deficit of the game at 23-10 at the beginning of the second quarter. They turned it around, however, pulling within just two points as a part of a 14-3 run. They would trade baskets to finish out the quarter and Tennessee went into the half down only 33-30.
Sparking the second-quarter comeback was Rae Burrell, Jordan Horston and Rennia Davis. The three combined for all but one point for the Lady Vols in the quarter. The three would also be the Lady Vols’ top three scorers of the night. Burrell finished with 17, Horston with 13 and Davis lead the team with 21 along with seven rebounds.
“We knew that being down by 13, we just had to take it step by step. So, we just kept at them, stayed together, played as a team when things weren’t going our way, and just stayed together and kept fighting, and got the win,” said Horston. “All credit to Ole Miss, because they came out and they punched us in the mouth first, but we did a good job handling it towards the end and hitting big free throws and grabbing the rebounds we needed.”
Tennessee continued to turn it around in the third quarter, outscoring Ole Miss by seven. They would take their first lead of the game off of a Davis free throw with just over three minutes left in the period. Davis scored nine points in the quarter to propel the Lady Vols to a 49-45 lead headed into the last frame.
The fourth quarter was tightly contested as both teams would grab leads and neither team lead by more than five. Ole Miss took a one-point lead off of a Johnson jump shot but surrendered six straight points to go down five with just 16 seconds remaining. Ole Miss responded with a converted and-one from Mimi Reid to cut the lead to two with six seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Burrell was fouled and sent to the line where she knocked down both shots. Ole Miss had no time to overcome the four-point disadvantage. Their final three-point shot was not enough as Tennessee escaped with a one-point win.
Tennessee freshman guard Destiny Salary was a pleasant surprise in the win. She scored six points in the contest along with four rebounds and a game-high four assists. Salary also played good defense and was rewarded with two steals during the game.
“It’s the same thing she brings every day in practice and every time you see her. It’s just energy,” Davis said about Salary’s minutes. “I thought she came in and played really well for us. She had some huge minutes and some huge buckets for us. It’s just her energy, and she pretty much gave the team energy tonight, so I am super proud of her for that.”
Tennessee will be in action next on Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. when they host the Florida Gators. The game will air on ESPNU. TNJN will have coverage after the game.
Edited by Maddie Torres and Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)