"We started asking our players what play they felt good about and if they wanted to run it," said UM coach Carol Ross. "The name of the play is Jace, which is named after my nephew."
Ole Miss had the ball beneath their basket with 3.1 seconds left. Ashley Awkward lobbed the ball to Price, who was in the lane halfway between the free throw line and the bucket. She had no trouble jumping, catching the ball and making the shot despite good MSU defensive pressure.
"We thought they would get the ball up in the air and to Armintie," said MSU junior forward Imesia Jackson, who had the job of defending Price. "We just did not want the ball in her hands. She can jump out of the gym."
The game-winning shot may be the only play remembered for years to come. But in truth is that both teams played extremely well at times, poorly at other times but when it came crunch time both teams played well.
"Both games that we have competed with Mississippi State say a lot about both programs and the understanding of what Ole Miss and Mississippi State means," said Ross, who played at Ole Miss from 1978 to 1981. "That's two buzzer beaters in two games, and then you throw in overtime. It has been two wonderful games."
MSU owned the first half. Neither team scored on their first four possessions. After the Lady Bulldogs made their fifth straight stop on the defensive end, Bethany Washington got open for a jumpshot from the corner to break the scoring ice at the 16:45 mark. MSU scored on their next four possessions, causing the Rebels to burn a timeout. The Rebels did not score until their seventh possession of the game.
MSU continued to play aggressively on both ends of the floor while expanding the lead. With 1:30 to go until the intermission, MSU built out a 45-31 lead and took a 47-34 lead into the dressing room.
"In terms of stats, the first half was as good a half as anyone can play," Fanning stated. "Offensively, we took care of the ball and rebounded well."
State shot 52.9 percent from the field in the first half (18-34), which included making 5 of their 9 (55.6 percent) three-point field goal shots. Defensively, the Lady Bulldogs caused the Rebels problems as evidenced by their shooting percentage of 33.3 (14 for 42). MSU had a six-rebound advantage at the half, scored 20 points in the paint and had 12 first half assists against 10 turnovers. State blocked five Rebel shots in the opening half, while the Rebels could not block an MSU shot.
However, the Rebels regrouped at half time. They came out of the dressing room and immediately took control of the game. While MSU had ball possession to open the second half, the Rebels stole the pass and scored an easy basket. An MSU offensive foul on the next possession again resulted in more Rebel points. Even an MSU timeout could not stop the Rebel momentum.
"Our players had a lot of will," Ross said. "Emotionally there were a lot of people speaking up. I am proud of our senior leadership."
Perhaps the game-changing play happened at the 15:39 mark. Alexis Rack and Price literally butted heads near mid-court while chasing a loose ball. Rack left the arena for stitches above her right eye. Price remained on the bench until the 11:27 mark. Rack returned to the floor at the 7:37 mark to a standing ovation. However, it was clear that the injury affected her game. She was not on the floor for the final six minutes of regulation, nor in the overtime.
The Rebels continued to pressure MSU into unforced mistakes. When Ole Miss got to within a point at the 9:39 mark, Tysheka Grimes made the only MSU trey in the second half. Marneshia Richard drove the ball the length of the floor for a layup that gave MSU a five-point lead.
The Ole Miss defense was relentless and the visitors took the lead at the 7:01 mark with a 68-67 score after Rack, who had just reentered the game, turned the ball over. Shantell Black drove the ball for an easy layup giving the visitors their first lead of the day.
"For us to have the amount of turnovers in the second-half was the game-changer to me," Fanning admitted. "When Alexis had to leave the ballgame it hurt us in terms of her three-point shooting. The lack of guards on the floor made us struggle to adjust. It also gave Ole Miss the chance to gain some momentum. We were in a position to win a ballgame and they made some big shots and we did not."
Over the next four minutes the lead changed hands six times, and the game was tied twice. With 3:35 left, the two teams were tied at 74.
Each team scored twice down the stretch. After an Ole Miss timeout with 14.6 seconds left in regulation, MSU played defense and forced overtime after Ole Miss missed three shots in the paint, two by Price and one by Carla Bartee who missed a tip-in at the end of regulation.
Neither team dented the scoreboard for nearly two minutes in the overtime period. Over the next minute and half, each team scored three times. With 3.1 seconds left, both teams had 84 points on the scoreboard. Ole Miss had possession under their basket. Price got a tip-in from the in-bound pass just to the left of the basket.
MSU had 1.8 seconds left, but as they did for most of the second half, turned the ball over. MSU had 18 turnovers in the second period and three more in the overtime for a total of 21 second-half turnovers. As a point of comparison, the Rebels had just three turnovers in the second half with one of those coming in the overtime period. MSU had just four assists in the second half and none in the overtime. Ole Miss had eight assists in each half plus two more in overtime, including on the game-winning play.
Price ended the game with 18 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. She became the fifth player in NCAA history to score 2000 career points, 1000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 300 steals in her career. She joined Cheryl Miller (USC, 1982-1986), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee, 1995-1999), Tamika Catchings (Tennessee, 1997-2001) and Sophia Young (Baylor 2002-2006) in that elite sorority. Price now has 2011 points, 1140 rebounds, 383 assists and 375 steals in her collegiate career.
Awkward finished the game with 16 points, while Bartee chipped in 14. Six other Rebels scored in single digits in the 10-player rotation.
Five Lady Bulldogs scored in double figures. Jackson matched Price's 18 points. Richard finished with 15 points. Rack scored her 14 points in the first half. Robin Porter came off the bench to score 13 points, while Washington added 12. Grimes matched Price with 11 rebounds. MSU had a 55-41 rebounding advantage, but Ole Miss controlled the offensive glass with a 17-12 advantage.
The MSU women travel to Tuscaloosa on Thursday for a game against Alabama. The Tide are still looking for their first SEC win. State closes out the regular season next Sunday at South Carolina.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.