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Ole Miss women down USM

OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) — In their first meeting since the 1999-2000 season, senior forward Tia Faleru (Ozark, Ala.) scored a game-high 17 points to help lead Ole Miss to a 68-66 win over instate rival Southern Miss on Thursday afternoon at Tad Smith Coliseum.

“I’m really proud of our basketball team and how we responded. We had a lot of toughness and showed a lot of great things in that game,” head coach Matt Insell said. “We can build on that. I’m really proud of our basketball team getting that win because we’re going to be happy to have that one come March.”

Faleru, who led the Rebels (8-3) in scoring for the team-leading sixth time this season, was joined in double figures by freshman guard A’Queen Hayes (Horn Lake, Miss.) and sophomore guard Erika Sisk (Oxford, Miss.) who added 10 points each.

“We’re going to be as good as Tia Faleru plays,” Insell said. “If Tia Faleru puts us on our back and leads us, we have a chance to play in the postseason and do something really special. I’m challenging her every day, and she knows that and she likes that challenge.”

In a game that featured 10 ties and 10 lead changes, points off turnovers proved to be one of the differences in the game, as Ole Miss scored 20 points off 16 Southern Miss turnovers, compared to eight points off 16 turnovers for the Golden Eagles (6-4).

Ole Miss staked an early 8-4 lead after holding Southern Miss scoreless for a 4:32 stretch. The Golden Eagles battled back with runs of 9-2 and 6-0 to take a 23-18 lead with 6:34 left in the half, their largest lead of the game. The Rebels cut the lead to 30-29 going into halftime, as Faleru hit a layup with one second left in the first half.

After falling behind early in the second half, Southern Miss used a 7-0 run to take a 42-38 lead with 12:54 left. Ole Miss surged back ahead, 49-44, after a 8-0 run, which included six straight points from Faleru. The Golden Eagles tied the game at 51-51, taking advantage of a 2:55 scoring drought for the Rebels.

Tied 57-57, Hayes grabbed a huge offensive rebound and then drew the foul to go to the free-throw line. She made the first free throw, giving Ole Miss a 58-57 lead with 1:59 left, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.

“A’Queen Hayes kept a lot of things alive for us,” Insell said. “She’s a tough, tough player. She did not have the accolades that other kids had, but she had the toughness and the intangibles. The plays she made don’t surprise. Those are the plays she makes every day in practice.”

After a forcing a turnover on the other end, junior guard Gracie Frizzell (Little Rock, Ark.) knocked down her second 3-pointer of the game, stretching the lead to 61-57 on the way to the 68-66 final.

“Gracie Frizzell is a great shooter,” Insell said. “She made a big three when we needed to have a play made. Those are the plays the older kids have to make when things get tough.”

Ole Miss continues its six-game home stand, hosting Alabama A&M on Saturday, the Rebels’ second-to-last non-conference game before opening Southeastern Conference play on Jan. 2 at home against Arkansas. Tip-off on Saturday is set for noon.

“We’re getting better every day,” Insell said. “We probably would have lost that game two weeks ago. They’re continuing to grow. I said from the start that I hope to have us there by Jan. 2, and we have closed the gap on how close we have to be and ready to go on Jan. 2.”

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