OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics) – Ole Miss received two electric offensive outings and timely runs in an impressive team victory over Kansas, 70-53, in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Thursday night at The Pavilion.
Highly-touted newcomers Donnetta Johnson (21 points, four steals, three rebounds, two assists) and Shakira Austin (18 points, five rebounds, two blocks) combined for 39 points to pace the Rebels, who again showed prowess on defense as well by forcing 25 turnovers for the second game in a row. The Jayhawks didn’t make it easy, neither did playing without Austin for the entire second quarter due to foul trouble. But, Ole Miss combatted that with resolve to avenge a 23-16 third quarter advantage to Kansas with a sublime 21-8 fourth quarter and a 13-3 run to close out the win – the first for the Rebels over a Big 12 team since 2007.
“I thought it was a great game for us,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “I was really concerned about Kansas and their experience level, they’re well coached. I knew we would have to disrupt them defensively in order for us to have a chance. I thought that we did that for three quarters, and it ended up paying off for us.”
Ole Miss had to withstand two strong offensive outings from the Jayhawks from Holly Hersgieter (20 points, nine rebounds, three assists) and Aniya Thomas (14 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal), but a tenacious Rebel defense forced the aforementioned 25 turnovers to hold its second consecutive opponent to fewer than 60 points. Five different Rebels recorded a steal, highlighted by four from Johnson herself.
“We wanted to dictate and disrupt,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We’ve been working on that. We pick up full court, and we want to be in the passing lane. When you have teams that really thrive on a certain cadence on the offensive end, defensively you have to disrupt that, or they would have really punished us. They run great stuff on the offensive end, so the game plan was just to not allow them to. Not allow them to reverse the ball, not allow them to see open people and just collectively play team defense.”
Johnson’s offensive prowess was the story of the evening though. After sitting out 2019-20 due to NCAA transfer rules, the Queens native has been key for Ole Miss, and she took her offensive game to another level Thursday night. Johnson eclipsed her previous career high of 11 points by the 7:23 mark of the second quarter, and by game’s end she led all scorers with 21 points.
“I felt good, I felt free,” Johnson said. “I was able to play the game that I love. I had the opportunity to play tonight and we came out with a win. I was excited to get on the floor with those girls and show the world what we’re capable of.”
While Johnson had 14 of her 21 by the break, it was the third quarter where Austin – ESPN’s No. 1 rated transfer – sought vengeance for missing all 10 minutes of action in the second frame. The Fredericksburg, Virginia native tallied eight of her 18 in the third alone. The fourth quarter was where five-star signee Madison Scott took the stage, scoring all six of her points and hauling in half of her 10 boards in an emotional display of effort down the final stretch.
“Our chemistry is getting better day by day,” Johnson said. “I’m learning how to play with Kira more, with Madi. Knowing everybody’s shot and the shots that I know they’ll make. Putting everyone in a position for success is my biggest challenge right now, but it’s coming along day by day.”
Ole Miss remains at home to host Alcorn State next Tuesday (Dec. 8) at The Pavilion at 6 p.m. CT.
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