Vanderbilt started the game strong, hitting four of their first five shots from the field to take an early seven-point lead at 11-4. For the remainder of the first quarter, Ole Miss couldn’t come closer than four points, and the quarter ended with the Dores on top 16-10.
The second quarter also went Vanderbilt’s way and going into halftime, the Dores held a 9-point lead at 29-20.
In the third quarter, things started to get shaky for Vanderbilt, as turnovers and fouls allowed Ole Miss to cut the lead down to just one point at 30-31 midway through the third quarter. But the Dores held their ground, thanks to defense and some timely free throws by Minta Spears and Christa Reed. Vanderbilt ended the half on a high note with a steal by Kristen Gaffney and basket by Rayte’a Long on a fast break to take a 40-32 lead into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter started well enough with the Dores increasing the lead to 12 points at 47-35 with 7:03 left in the game on a 3-pointer by Reed.
But then the game began to turn. Ole Miss answered with a 3-pointer by Shequila Joseph. Then a Vanderbilt turnover and a foul led to two made free throws by Joseph, then another Vanderbilt turnover led to a fastbreak layup to cut the Vanderbilt lead down to five points at 47-42.
At that point, Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb called timeout. But the Ole Miss run continued. A missed basket by Vanderbilt led to a 3-pointer on the other end to cut the Vanderbilt lead back to two points at 49-47.
In the meantime, the Ole Miss crowd got louder and louder. The teams traded baskets, then a 3-pointer by Reed put the Dores back up by five points at 52-47. But this time, Vanderbilt wasn’t able to make a final stand. Vanderbilt fouls sent Rebels to the line again and again, where they made five of six free throws to tie the game at 52-52 with three seconds left.
With possession of the ball, Vanderbilt called timeout and inbounded the ball from the sideline in front of the Vanderbilt bench. But the cross-court passed sailed out of bounds, given possession back to Ole Miss.
To make matters worse, originally, the clock indicated 1.3 seconds remaining, but when the officials determined that the ball was never officially put into play, the time was restored to 3 seconds remaining, this time with Ole Miss in possession.
And as it turned out, that’s all they needed. Erica Sisk drove to the basket and apparently scored the winning basket as time expired. But the drama was extended when the officials realized that she’d been fouled before the buzzer. That meant that after the delay for review, she had a free throw, giving Vanderbilt a very faint hope of pulling out a miracle victory. But Sisk sank the free throw to seal the victory for the Rebels.
After the game, Coach Balcomb summed up the problem succinctly, “The tough part is, we were all on the same page and then when it got loud, we got flustered.”
Now, with a disappointing loss to open the SEC season, Vanderbilt returns home to face a very tall order, both literally and figuratively, as the #2 South Carolina Gamecocks come to Memorial Gym for the SEC home opener on Thursday night. Game time is 8 p.m. CT.