OXFORD, Miss. - Ole Miss (16-12, 7-8 SEC) went to the free throw line
21 times Thursday, connecting on 19 of them as the Rebels squeaked out a
65-61 Senior Night win over Auburn (13-15, 4-11 SEC). The Tigers tried to play Senior Night spoilers for the second game in a row, but fell short in the final road game of the season.
Alli Smalley and Jordan Greenleaf scored 16 points each to lead Auburn in the game. Smalley moved into 22nd all-time in career scoring with the total, giving her 1,141 on her career to pass Tiffany Krantz.
"I thought we had a good chance down the stretch," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "We did some nice things in the second half, but it came down to the free throw line. That happens sometimes on the road, but you have to step up and make some plays."
Taking on one of the best offenses in the Southeastern Conference, along with the league's leading scorer in Bianca Thomas, Auburn had to rely on its defensive pressure to stay in the game.
The Tigers tallied seven steals and six blocks, forcing 12 Rebel turnovers. Auburn turned the turnovers into 11 points on the other end of the floor.
"We created some problems on defense and made them do some things they were not comfortable with," said Fortner. "We worked on limiting the outside shot and not giving up un-contested looks and I thought we did a good job at that."
One area Fortner was not pleased with was the rebounding battle. Ole Miss accomplished the rare feat of out-rebounding the Tigers, 43-31, and turned its 15 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points.
"The offensive rebounds were the total difference in the ballgame,"
said Fortner. "We did not do a good job of closing out and not allowing those second-chance shots. It just came down to too many offensive rebounds."
Auburn trailed by as many as 11 points late in the second half, but an 8-0 Auburn run, topped off by a Smalley 3-pointer with 39 seconds left, cut the lead to three. The Tiger defense forced Thomas to settle for a 3-point shot as the shot clock was running out, but Auburn could not come up with the rebound and was forced to foul with two seconds left.
Kayla Melson hit one of her two free throw attempts, accounting for one of only two Rebel misses from the charity stripe in the game, but it was enough to put the game out of reach as Ole Miss held on for the 65-61 win.
Thomas scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting. She was held to just 1-of-6 from 3-point range but connected on seven of her eight free throw attempts. Elizabeth Robertson finished with 11 points on
3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range while Shantell Black scored 10 points. Holloway pulled down a game-high nine rebounds for the Rebels.
Following Smalley and Greenleaf was freshman point guard Morgan Toles with 10 points along with her five assists. Fellow freshman Blanche Alverson followed with nine while KeKe Carrier pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Auburn shot 41.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from the free throw line, but connected on only 6-of-11 free throws for 54.5 percent.
The Tigers committed only six turnovers in the game and tallied 16 assists.
Ole Miss shot 37.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range. The Rebels also made 90.5 percent of their free throws.
Auburn will return home for its regular-season finale Sunday against Kentucky (23-5, 11-4 SEC). Tipoff is set for 2 p.m., from Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. For more information, log on to www.AuburnTigers.com.