Lady Rebs beat State to advance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Bianca Thomas scored seven points in the final 1:46 to hold off a late Mississippi State charge and lead the Ole Miss women's basketball team to a 54-49 victory over the Lady Bulldogs Thursday afternoon at the Sommet Center in the first round of the SEC Women's Tournament.

After Mississippi State guard Alexis Rack hit a three-pointer to cut the Ole Miss lead to four points with just under three minutes to play, Thomas answered on the other end with a jumper just outside the free throw line to stretch the Lady Rebels' lead back to six points with 1:46 left to play. The Lady Bulldogs went on to cut the lead to three points with 58 seconds left, but Thomas answered again with another jumper to push the lead back to five points.

Rack struck again with a deep three-pointer with 22 seconds on the clock to put the Lady Bulldogs within two points, but Thomas converted on three of four free throws over the final 18 seconds to preserve the win for the Lady Rebels.

Thomas finished the game with a game-high 18 points, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Senior forward Danetra Forrest added nine points and nine rebounds, while junior center Shawn Goff chipped in with eight points and five rebounds. With her five rebounds, Goff has now pulled down 501 rebounds during her three-year career at Ole Miss.

"I was really proud of the effort that we showed throughout the game," Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner said. "I thought the game was exactly the way it should have been. I knew for the most part it would be a slugfest and that's what it was, and we probably had the final run, and I'm very, very proud of my kids."

Rack paced the Lady Bulldogs with 13 points, while forward Tysheka Grimes finished the contest with 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Mississippi State held a 39-36 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the second half, but the Lady Rebels used a 10-0 run over the next three minutes to build a seven point lead with 5:12 remaining in the game. During the run, Forrest scored seven of the team's 10 points, including a critical three-point play to cap the run.

Ole Miss used a suffocating defense throughout the game as the Lady Rebels held Mississippi State to 29.2 percent shooting from the field and 12.0 percent from beyond the arc. In fact, the Lady Rebels forced the Lady Bulldogs into 16 consecutive misses from the three-point line.

The first half saw the two in-state rivals battle back-and-forth with neither team leading by more than four points for the first 12 minutes of the game. Leading by one point at the 7:55 mark, Mississippi State used an 8-1 run during a two minute stretch to build an eight point lead. Ole Miss, however, answered the MSU run with a 9-2 run over the final five minutes of the game to head into the halftime break trailing by one point.

With the win, Ole Miss improves to 6-1 all-time against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament and have now won five straight games on the tournament's opening day.

The Lady Rebels now move onto the second round of the tournament and will take on top-seeded LSU Friday afternoon at 12:00 p.m.

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