Another Step

Matt Insell’s team had just lost to Mississippi State in dramatic fashion 64-62 as the Bulldogs played their last game in Tad Smith Coliseum. There’s a new arena – The Pavilion at Ole Miss – that will be open by the time State rolls back into Oxford next season.

Among other things in the postgame, the second-year head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels wanted to talk about the crowd. He recalled when he was an assistant coach at Kentucky coming to Oxford, there would be basically nobody at the games.

So he went to work to fix that when he got here as head coach in 2013. He improved the play of the team Ole Miss put on the court. And he then went about gathering fans to come to games.

So after the loss, before talking about the game, he had a few things to say.

“I would like to start off by thanking our students. I would like to start off by thanking our fans and the whole Rebel Nation of supporters that we have,” Insell said.

“I’ve been begging people to come to games, going to different places. I think I went to every fraternity house. I didn’t know we had that many fraternity houses. But I went to all of ‘em. I never was in a fraternity, but I’ve got fraternity brothers now.”

It worked. They showed up. And against MSU, his team showed out, falling just short.

Thursday night’s crowd of 3,383 was not only one of the largest for a Lady Rebel game in the past few seasons, it was one of the largest ever. And one of the most enthusiastic. It actually got loud in there a few times, especially late as the end was unfolding.

Ole Miss wasn’t able to win it, but it may have won over a few fans who might come back to see a women’s basketball game.

“What a great atmosphere for a college basketball game,” Insell said.

Insell was disappointed in the loss, as you would expect. The Rebels had led by as many as eight points in the first half and were up 34-30 at halftime.

But there was some foul trouble for the Rebels. MSU was called for just four fouls in the first half, while the homestanding Rebels were whistled for 12. What made it worse was all-star Rebel veteran Tia Faleru had three of those 12.

State eased away from Ole Miss in the second half. When Jerica James nailed a 3-pointer with eight and a half minutes to go, MSU led by eight points at 55-47, matching the Rebels’ largest lead of the game from earlier.

But there is no quit in Insell’s team. No quit in his program now. Not that there ever was. But his players know they can win. They know they can compete, and that’s basically every time they step onto the court. Any court.

That wasn’t the case just six weeks ago. But it is now. His players believe.

With 2:19 to go and MSU up 60-57, Faleru fouled out.

Later, Ole Miss’ Danielle McCray made a layup to tie the game 62-62. The worst part, however, was that 14 seconds still remained.

With four seconds left, MSU’s Morgan William made a long two-point jumper for the win.

“That kid made an unbelievable shot, a great shot,” Insell said. “And we contested it. We had a hand up. I’ve already watched the replay of it. She made a great shot. All credit to her.”

Insell said his players took the loss hard and it showed in the locker room afterward.

“When you get beat like that, you question things at times. And you can’t do that,” he said. “We have a good basketball team and got beat by a good basketball team. We have a team that’s hurting. There was not a player in there that wasn’t crying. That’s progress for our program. We’ve got a team that now expects to win.”

“The hardest thing is we’ve worked so hard in practice,” junior Gracie Frizzell said. “We fought, and we’re going to continue to fight.”

The Rebels don’t play again for a week. They play next Thursday night at LSU.

Insell gave them off until Sunday night.

“I told them all to go home, if they’re close enough to go home. If not, just sit in your apartment and watch TV. Regroup, get your mind back right, and they will.”

As for Insell, “I’m going to hit the road recruiting.”

Ole Miss is 14-6 overall and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play.

Said Insell, “I don’t think anybody in this room thought we’d be 4-3 now. If you said you did, I’d call you a liar.

“We’ve come a long way and we’ve got a bright future,” he said. “We just didn’t get over the hump tonight.”

Then again, despite the loss, maybe as a program and in terms of fan interest, they actually did.

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