"I thought we had a good chance down the stretch," said Auburn Coach Nell Fortner. "We did some nice things in the second half, but it came down to the free throw line. That happens sometimes on the road, but you have to step up and make some plays."
With the challenge of facing off against Bianca Thomas, Auburn's defense did a solid job against the Rebels all night despite the struggles with one of the league's best players.
The Tigers tallied seven steals and six blocks, forcing 12 Rebel turnovers. Auburn turned the turnovers into 11 points on the other end of the floor.
"We created some problems on defense and made them do some things they were not comfortable with," said Fortner. "We worked on limiting the outside shot and not giving up un-contested looks and I thought we did a good job at that."
Down by as many as 11 points late in the second half, Auburn went on an 8-0 run, topped off by a Smalley 3-pointer with 39 seconds left, to cut the lead to three. The Tiger defense forced Thomas to settle for a 3-point shot as the shot clock was running out, but Auburn could not come up with the rebound and was forced to foul with two seconds left.
Kayla Melson hit one of her two free throw attempts, accounting for one of only two Rebel misses from the charity stripe in the game, but it was enough to put the game out of reach as Ole Miss held on for the 65-61 win behind 22 points from Thomas.
In addition to Smalley and Greenleaf, Auburn had a strong night from freshman point guard Morgan Toles. She scored 10 points and had five assists without a turnover. For the game Auburn turned the ball over just five times. Fellow freshman Blanche Alverson followed with nine points while KeKe Carrier pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Auburn will return home for its regular-season finale Sunday against Kentucky (23-5, 11-4 SEC). Tipoff is set for 2 p.m., from Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. It will be the final regular season game for the women in BEMC.