January 24, 2014 11:01:08 AM
OXFORD -- The next play.
It sounds simple to be able to put a bad play or consecutive mistakes behind you. Truth be told, Kenyotta Jenkins wouldn't have been able to do that a year ago. The old Jenkins likely would have put her head down after being picked on by an opponent and let her play affect her performance and the play of her teammates.
If that was still the case, Matt Insell still would be looking for his first Southeastern Conference victory.
But a more mature Jenkins showed Thursday she is able to regroup after being targeted on defense to make not just one play -- a deflection for a turnover -- but a second -- an offensive rebound putback with 0.8 seconds remaining -- that lifted the Ole Miss women's basketball team to an 87-85 overtime victory against Mississippi State before a crowd of 1,107 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"She grew up. She really has grown up," Insell said. "I got a little emotional as I watched it happen because Kenyotta Jenkins a month ago would have let those three defensive possessions bother her. They were picking on her, and she would have let that bother her. I have been preaching to her every day let things go, play the next play. She played the next play."
Jenkins' layup in transition gave Ole Miss (10-10, 1-5) a 79-77 lead with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in overtime. That's when she was tested. MSU freshman Ketara Chapel (career-high 12 points) took passes from the right elbow at the foul line and was fouled twice by Jenkins on drives to the basket. Chapel converted all four free throws to give MSU an 81-79 lead with 49.7 seconds to play. Chapel scored again on a layup with 27.2 seconds before Tia Faleru (career-high tying 29 points, 15 rebounds) tied it with a layup with 20.8 seconds left.
MSU switched its half-court offense on the next set, putting Chapel on the left block. As the Bulldogs advanced the ball to the top of the key, Chapel flashed to the elbow. This time, though, Jenkins jumped the pass and deflected it away from behind. Chapel retrieved the loose ball, but she was out of bounds on the sideline with eight seconds to go.
"She beat me twice and I kind of got down, but I didn't want to bring my teammates," Jenkins said. "I figured she was going to go to the elbow again, and I couldn't let her get past me and I had to do something. I was trying just to deflect it in a way my teammate could get it or it would go out of bounds."
Ole Miss inbounded the ball to point guard Valencia McFarland (27 points, career-high matching 12 assists), who raced up the court and drove the right lane for a layup. McFarland missed the shot, but Jenkins was wide open on the weak side to gather the rebound and score with 0.8 seconds left.
"When Valencia drove, 'Oh my God,' I work on that offside tip-in for the rebound every day in practice," Jenkins said, "so I just knew I had to get it to go in and we would win the game."
The putback sealed the first SEC victory for Insell, who spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach at Kentucky. He joked after the game that his former boss, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, sent him a message before Thursday's game that he better break out his trusty "old gray" suit to help ensure the Rebels earned a victory. Mitchell must not have worn his "old gray" suit Thursday night because No. 9 Kentucky lost to Alabama 57-55 in Lexington, Ky. Wins by Ole Miss and Alabama catapulted them over MSU and dropped the Bulldogs (14-6, 1-5) into last place in the league.
Insell said the Rebels worked on tip-ins earlier in the day. He said he didn't know why Ole Miss opted to have Faleru and Jenkins practice tip-ins in anticipation of MSU's help defense, but he is glad he did. The decision might have played a role in Ole Miss' 44-38 rebounding edge. The Rebels had 19 offensive rebounds and a 20-8 edge in second-chance points.
"Every play we talk about score, stop, score, stop," Jenkins said. "Our team, even when we are down, somebody tries to stay positive, and we fight every day in practice, so we knew this game was ours."
Ole Miss had that confidence despite dropping a 68-65 decision to Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., and an 80-74 loss to Vanderbilt in Oxford in its two previous SEC games. Those losses extended Ole Miss' conference losing streak to 10 games, dating back to last season. The Rebels' last victory in the league was 65-51 win against MSU in Oxford last season. Much like that game, Ole Miss outlasted MSU with a gritty effort in which it overcame 17 turnovers and a 21-of-36 effort from the free throw line.
On this night, McFarland even was able to rebound from missing two free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining in regulation that could have given Ole Miss the win. McFarland also had a turnover on the last possession in regulation.
"We have been in a bunch of games like this the past two games, and we let it get away at the end," McFarland said. "We knew we had to come through at the end of this game and just fight to the end and get this win because it is our rivalry."
McFarland also knew Jenkins had her back on the missed layup at the end of the game. Like she did all game, McFarland did her best to get to the rim and to make things happen. With MSU protecting the 3-point line against shooters Gracie Frizzell and Shequila Joseph, McFarland was 10 of 22 from the field and 6 of 12 from the free throw line. She hit two key free throws with 36.1 seconds to go in overtime to tie the game at 83.
"What a win. What an effort by our basketball team," Insell said. "I got a little emotional with them after the game in the locker room because I am so proud of them. We have been close a lot this year. We have been right there with a chance to win those games, and I get questioned every day by the media, friends, and family, 'How are you going to keep their heads up?' It is not hard when you have young ladies that are fighting every day."
MSU led for most of the game and used a 10-1 run in the second half to take a 53-44 lead with 12 minutes, 50 seconds to play. Chapel's 3-pointer helped give MSU its largest lead to that point before another trey by Jerica James pushed the advantage to 63-52 with 9:20 left. But despite shooting better than 50 percent from the field at that juncture, the Bulldogs couldn't deliver the knockout punch. Ole Miss continued to beat MSU down the court in transition for easy baskets. It also capitalized on the Bulldogs' inability to stop McFarland in the half-court attack. The Rebels spread the floor and allowed McFarland, a 5-foot-4 speedster, to work off high screens from Faleru. Whether MSU was in a zone or in a man-to-man, McFarland drove the lane and created shots or stepped back and hit a key jump shot -- particularly a 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining that gave Ole Miss its first lead since the first half -- to keep the team in the game.
"The purpose of the zone is to try to slow us down any way possible," McFarland said. "(Coach Insell) just told me to keep attacking no matter what whether they played zone or man, and I just tried my best to attack."
Insell feels McFarland's ability to bounce back and Jenkins' ability to make plays at the end of the game are becoming the norm for the Rebels. He acknowledged the team is learning through its mistakes, but he likes the energy, enthusiasm, and, most importantly, the fight his players deliver.
"I was telling them in the huddles it wasn't about Xs and Os, it was about us showing toughness and getting stops," Insell said. "In the under-12 and the under-eight (media timeouts), there wasn't a lot of drawing on a board. There was a lot of me screaming and yelling about toughness and keep playing, and play until the last possession. If you will keep playing, something good is going to happen. This team has bought into that."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.