Ole Miss starts fast in win over Penn State

Ole Miss 65, Penn State 48. The 7-2 Rebels of Coach Carol Ross now head to the New York area to play Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Tuesday night at 6:30 (CST).

Carol Ross said the game immediately after final exams before Christmas holidays is one of those you just never know about.

"The game after exams always scares me because they'll either come out excited that their academic concerns are over, or they're drained," she said of players. "I think you saw a combination of both today."

A combination of both is certainly an accurate statement. Ross' Rebels came out on fire in the first half, jumping out to a 27-4 lead over visiting Penn State en route to a 17-point victory.

After that 23-point lead 12 minutes into the contest, the game settled into a closer one as the Rebels admitted they became a bit tired.

"We got a little fatigued," said senior guard Ashley Awkward, with 12 points, four assists and three rebounds in 31 minutes. "We didn't play smart (after that fast start), and we got lazy."

A tale of two situations indeed. But it was clear the Rebels' hot start gave them the win on this day as they moved to 7-2 on the season. Penn State is now 6-6.

"If we're going to win games, we have to find a way to have energy for 40 minutes," Ross said. "We're not going to always be able to put people away in the first half, which is basically what happened today. I keep pushing them for 40 (minutes), because we're a heck of a 20-minute team right now. It's going to require more than 20 when we turn the corner into January (and Southeastern Conference play)."

Ross said the early moments of this one were productive, not because of the offensive end but because of the other side of the ball, so to speak.

"We played really well defensively, which created a lot of opportunities for our offense," Ross said. "We were swarming and doing what we do best. Then we began to not play as smart. That happens when you become a little fatigued. We've got to understand that we need to make the extra pass on offense at that point and use our energy on the defensive end. We have to become a little more smart in that regard."

Penn State head coach Rene Portland said the Rebels were too much for her team to handle.

"(Ole Miss) did a nice job using their athleticisim and their pressure," she said. "They created some turnovers for us early, and we were aware of how they play. But we didn't handle it very well."

The Nittany Lions got as close as 10 points in the second half a handful of times but never got it under double digits.

The Rebels scored 19 points off 21 PSU turnovers, which proved to be a big key in this one. Ole Miss led the battle of the boards 46 to 37 with a 20 to 14 edge on the offensive glass.

Ole Miss was led in scoring by freshman guard Alliesha Easley, who poured in 15 points before exiting the game late in a breath-holding moment for all. It appeared Easley had an injured knee. After a few minutes on the sideline, Easley walked to the bench amidst applause from the 1,211 in attendance.

"I just cramped up in both legs," she said. "I'm glad it wasn't anything worse. I'm OK."

The Rebels don't have much time to enjoy their third victory over a Big Ten opponent (they beat both Northwestern and Illinois earlier this season). They leave from Oxford Monday morning at 3:45, headed to the airport for a flight to metro New York and the game Tuesday night against Rutgers.

"It will be a challenge," Ross said of the trip and the game against the Scarlet Knights, only 3-4 on the season but still ranked as high as 19th nationally this week. "There are always demands in this type situation, but we carry on."

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