November 11, 2013 10:09:16 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
OXFORD -- If you didn't know better, you would have thought Maggie Proffitt and Kelsei Ewings were back playing basketball in the Golden Triangle.
The same perimeter shooting, shot fakes, and pull-up jumpers Proffitt showcased at Columbus High School and Starkville Academy are a little quicker. If it's possible, Ewings' quickness off the bounce is a click faster and her ability to direct an offense has an air of confidence, just like she showed when she was a standout at West Point High.
On Sunday, though, Proffitt and Ewings showed they are capable of doing those same things at the highest level of Division I. The results proved to be upsetting for the Ole Miss women's basketball team.
Proffitt came off the bench to score 14 points and grab six rebounds, while Ewings added four points and two assists to help Central Arkansas (2-0) surprise Ole Miss 66-63 before a crowd of 590 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"It feels awesome to come in and get an upset," Proffitt said. "We didn't have anything to lose, so we just had to go as hard as we could and play as a team. If we did that, we knew we could get the win."
Proffitt, a 5-foot-7 guard, played a key role last season in leading the Starkville Academy girls basketball team to a 43-0 record and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall State Championship. She averaged 17.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game and shot 54 percent from the field, 46 percent from the 3-point line, and 83 percent from the free-throw line to earn MAIS Player of the Year and Clarion-Ledger All-State honors. She also had two strong seasons at Columbus High and was part of the Kenner (La.) won Amateur Athletic Union team that won a national championship.
Still, Proffitt wasn't recruited by the major Division I programs and fell in love with UCA, which is in Conway, Ark., about five hours from Columbus.
Proffitt expected the pace of the Division I game to be a lot faster, but she didn't appear to be fazed against Ole Miss (1-1). Her first basket came following penetration by center Courtney Duever, who drew the defense and kicked the ball to the wing. Proffitt received the pass and up-faked Gracie Frizzell and moved into position for a mid-range jump shot. She stepped in to hit another jumper, converted two free throws, and scored on a layup in transition to finish a flurry of eight points in a 12-point flurry by the Sugar Bears.
"I am really impressed," said Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt, who was at courtside with Starkville Academy assistant coach Kayla Mosley. "I knew Maggie could play at this level, but the speed of the game hasn't affected her. She comes in and scores four baskets in a row. That is Maggie. Maggie can see the rim and she is a threat to score. She looks very much at home at this level."
Proffitt's performance in the first half earned her a start in the second half, and she didn't leave the floor. She picked right up where she left off, scoring in the first minute on a drive in which she went behind the back and into the lane with Diara Moore on her. Even though Proffitt was 0 of 4 from 3-point range, she recognized teams are going to play her tough out to the arc. Her final points came on one of those plays, as she drove from the left wing and angled her move back into the paint to body the defender back and to cut off the angle of the post player who was coming over to help.
Moves like that impressed Sandra Rushing when she was the head women's basketball coach at Delta State in Cleveland. Now in her second year in the same position at Central Arkansas, Rushing said she is delighted to have Proffitt in the program because she sees so much room for growth from an already solid set of fundamentals.
"She showed tonight why we signed her," Rushing said. "Maggie is not just a shooter. She put the ball on the floor and drew contact, and I think defensively she was solid. I also watched her get down and block out and get a hand on the ball rebounding. She is in the right place at the right time. She is a very smart player. Her career at UCA will be great. I am so excited to have her for four years."
Rushing will only have Ewings for two seasons, but the 5-5 point guard plans to make the most of her time. Ewings averaged 27 points, five assists, and three steals as a senior at West Point and went on to sign a scholarship to play basketball at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C. Ewings averaged 2.5 points, 0.8 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 13 minutes per game (three starts) as a freshman before transferring. She played her sophomore season at Paris (Texas) Junior College, where she averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals and was one of the team's leading scorers.
Ewings' role is a little different this season. Playing behind guards Micah Rice and Brianna Mullins, Ewings logged 14 minutes and had one assist and one turnover against Ole Miss. She showed her quickness by driving past senior guard Valencia McFarland for a layup. The score was an answer to a layup by McFarland, who drove past Ewings for the basket. Her other points also came on a drive.
"It has been pretty shaky on my end," Ewings said. "I am coming in and trying to learn a new team and a new system, and then I have new teammates. My teammates have made it pretty easy."
Ewings said she is ready to be a backup or starter. Even though the season is only two games old, Ewings feels she will face more competition and a faster pace at UCA, which is a member of the Southland Conference than she did at North Carolina A&T, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Rushing is eager to help Ewings continue her adjustment because she feels she will add a dimension to the team in whatever role she plays.
"When I realized she had left her Division I school, I remember calling her and telling her, 'Now I am Division I so I you need to come to play for me,' " said Rushing, who also recruited Ewings when she was coach at Delta State. "I am really happy because she has so much potential. She doesn't even realize the potential she has. ... She plays bigger than she is."
On Sunday, Proffitt, Ewings, and the Sugar Bears played bigger than they appeared. UCA overcame a missed one-and-one by Proffitt with 17 seconds remaining after Ole Miss missed a 3-pointer and a short jump shot after an offensive rebound. Duever (game-high 22 points, team-high 10 rebounds) hit two free throws with 1.4 seconds to go. Ole Miss missed a last-second heave as time expired.
The afternoon was as satisfying for Schmidt as it was for the Sugar Bears because she could take a little pride in knowing one of her former players was making an impact at the Division I level.
"I have always said you can forgive a lot of sins for a shooter, but Maggie doesn't have any sins," Schmidt said. "Maggie is a complete player, but Maggie has what you have to have to play at this level. She has IT. She has the desire, the focus, the desire, the intensity. She can close all of the doors around her and she can do what she has to do what she has to do at that moment in a game to make something happen. She was phenomenal at the high school level. She looks like she has been doing this all her life out there. She looks comfortable and is very effective.
"Maggie is a coach's dream. Like I said, she has IT. She does whatever she has to do at that moment to make the team as good as she can make it."
Whether it's scoring, rebounding, or running the team, Proffitt and Ewings said they will be happy playing their roles. They hope their contributions lead to more results like the one the team achieved Sunday.
"I feel they kind of overlooked us, so we just had go hard and take it to them, and that's what I tried to do," Proffitt said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.