First SEC Win

Matt Insell had his coat on, then it was off. He was down on all fours and back up again. Then back down. One time it looked like he was nearly face down.

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But why not? You're a 31-year-old first-year Southeastern Conference head coach and your team is 0-5 in the league.

So what if it took an overtime period to get his Ole Miss team past Mississippi State 87-85? He could have gone through all those sideline actions another overtime or two, if that's what it took.

This win was for his players. It was for his program. He got emotional, he admitted, when they talked in the locker room after the game.

They've come so far. They had so far to go. They still do. It was only one win. LSU is up next at home Sunday afternoon.

But on this night Insell pulled and tugged, cajoled and extolled. He pleaded and coached. He coached and pleaded. Sometimes he admitted he just pleaded.

Insell said the officials noticed, too. One told him something he shared with the media in the postgame.

"One said to me ‘You were the wildest assistant coach in the country, and I think you've taken over being the wildest head coach in the country.' And not being on them, just being wild on the sideline," he said.

Whatever it takes during a 40-minute game – or longer – is what Insell is all about. And not only that but doing something to improve every day.

Rebounding was a key in this one. Ole Miss won the boards 44-38 against a State team that has a solid inside presence, moreso than the Rebels. As one reporter put it, "Ole Miss survived that part of the game."

Junior Tia Faleru had 15 rebounds to pace both teams in that department.

"I was more fired up. I just don't know," said Faleru, elated with the rest of her teammates and almost at a loss for words. "I just believe in my teammates. We got us a win."

In SEC play, the streak had reached 10 games. Five to end last year. Five to begin this year.

It was State, too, and senior point guard Valencia McFarland, a Mississippian, said it was a must.

"We knew we had to come through and fight to the end," said McFarland, in her time at Ole Miss having played for four head coaches in a program trying to find its way out of the wilderness and back into the greatness it once knew. "This was our rival. We had to win this game."

In the second half, after trailing 41-39 at intermission, it didn't appear they would at times. The Rebels fell behind by 11 points with nine minutes to play. They were fighting and Insell was encouraging. But it wasn't looking good for the home team.

Then State got into some foul trouble. Near the end of regulation, four of the Bulldogs had four fouls. To be fair, two Rebels did, too. It was a relatively whistle-happy game.

Matt Insell
Bruce Newman

Ole Miss shot 36 free throws and missed 15; MSU 29 and missed eight.

But even without a naturally flowing game, this one kept the attention of all in the crowd of more than 1,100. The comeback the Rebels made got their crowd back in it as time wound down in regulation.

A McFarland layup tied it 73-73 with just over three minutes to go in regulation, and it was anybody's game then.

MSU led most of the way in overtime. Either that, or it was tied. With 21 seconds left, Faleru scored to make it 85-85.

With eight seconds to go, the Rebels' Kenyotta Jenkins stole the ball nearly out of bounds on the side of the court away from the benches. It was so questionable the refs went to the monitors to take a look.

Rebels' basketball, and with less than a second on the clock, Jenkins finished the deal herself with a tip-in of a McFarland miss.

Game over for this one. Game on for Insell and his program.

"Y'all are not going to believe this, but we worked on that today," Insell said of the tip-in play that ultimately won it for Ole Miss. "We worked on that today. For some reason in my mind we needed to work on that.

"I wanted my All-American point guard to make that layup. We came out of the (last) huddle, and I told Valencia ‘Get it and get to the rim.' And I heard Kenyatta say, ‘If you miss it, I got you.' And she had her. That's a team that's coming together. That's a team that believes in each other."

The postgame was a little longer than usual. And why not? This one was a long time coming.

"What a win," Insell said. "It took us 44 minutes and 59 seconds to get that one. I'm very happy to get that win. I'm very proud of my basketball team. Great leadership. What an effort."

From the head coach on down. Winning this one took it all.

"I'm never going to get my head down," Insell said of the struggle to find wins lately for his team, now 10-10 overall. "I'm at the best place in the country to coach women's basketball. I don't want to be anywhere else. I believe we're going to win a national championship right here at this university at some point.

"We're going to stay the course and we're going to keep working every day and get better every day. One of these days we're going to look back on these days and laugh a little bit."

Watching Insell's sometimes wild actions courtside is worth a laugh or two at times now. Come Sunday, he'll be at it again.

"I told the kids," Insell said, "that I'm going to play every possession with you. Every possession with you. I'm going to give them everything I have every second of every game."

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