Vandy rebounds to top Rebels 68-59 on road

How big was Vanderbilt's 68-59 victory over Ole Miss on Sunday? After totaling 39 points in a defensive battle with a peaking LSU squad in Baton Rouge last Thursday, Vandy won in Oxford for the first time since 2003 (67-60) and is tied with Mississippi State for third in the SEC. The top four seeds receive a first round bye in the March 4-7 SEC tourney.

The No. 20/25 ranked Commodores (19-8, 8-6) now stand at 6-11 in Oxford, although they lead the Ole Miss series 22-14 overall. It was the Rebels' fourth consecutive loss and seventh in eight games.

"We've struggled here," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "Sometimes this game doesn't matter as much as it did tonight, but we really needed this one. Down the stretch all the games are important, and we've got to take them one at a time. I like how we rebounded from the LSU game – we came back strong."

The 'Dores steadily wore away at Ole Miss who led by as much as eight in the first half. The lead fell in the final 5:16 as Vandy went on an 11-2 run. With 1:43 left, Rebecca Silinski nailed a jumper for a 28-all tie, which Vandy broke to go up 30-29 at the break. The 6-3 junior had a career night, going 4 of 5 from the field in just 12 minutes of play. "I'm really proud of her," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "She defended for us, she was physical for us. She gave us great energy."

Driving to put the game away was point guard Jence Rhoads, who led Vandy with 17 points. The junior sank three buckets in 13-4 run that cemented the Vandy victory with 3:12 remaining.

"She was huge for us," Balcomb described. With an uncharacteristic six turnovers, Jence struggled but played through 40 minutes while teammates sat in foul trouble.

Lauren Lueders sank key threes twice to put Vandy in the lead at 56-53 and 48-47 late in the second half. She finished with 8 points and 8 boards. "She hadn't hit all night and then she hits big threes for us. I liked her focus," Balcomb added.

Merideth Marsh had 15 points and Elan Brown finished with 10 boards and eight points.

The Vandy bench outscored the Rebels' 17-1. "Our bench looked like they wanted it more and our body language showed a sense of urgency," Balcomb said. In the LSU loss, that stat was reversed. And in answer to those who look upon last Thursday's loss as a setback, Balcomb says think again.

"If you saw the game, it was a good defensive game between two good teams. You've got to give credit to the other team sometimes. LSU has been shutting everybody down. They're on a roll. There were a lot of things we could have done better on both ends of the floor. It wasn't our best effort but that wasn't a disastrous game by any means."

Vandy outrebounded Ole Miss 40 to 28 despite an all guard lineup the last 10 minutes and converted 12 of 15 free throws for 80% shooting. Ole Miss missed 11 free throws on 13 of 24 shooting, which could have made the difference in the eight point loss.

Bianca Thomas led Ole Miss with 23 points, Kayla Melson added 17 and Kayla Holloway 13.

The 'Dores wrap up regular season SEC play this week with two home games. Next up is Florida on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CST in a televised game in Memorial Gym. On Sunday, February 28, Vandy seniors Ashlee Bridge, Lauren Lueders, Merideth Marsh and Jessica Mooney bid goodbye in their last home court game when they take on South Carolina.

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