Ole Miss' Shantell Black is only 5-foot-4, but she averages more than four rebounds per game.
That skill has never been more helpful for the Rebels than it was Thursday. That's when the former Collins Hill star grabbed a missed shot by Bianca Thomas and made the basket plus a foul shot with 11.3 seconds left to lift Ole Miss to a 64-63 win over South Carolina (14-15) in the first round of the SEC Tournament at Gwinnett Arena.
Down by two as the clock ticked down, the ninth-seeded Rebels (17-13) seemingly got the shot they wanted, with leading-scorer Thomas firing up a 3-pointer on a day when she had been 6-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line.
But the ball clanged off the front of the rim, into the waiting arms of Black, who turned and quickly fired. The whistle blew as she hit the floor, and the ball fell through the hoop to tie the game as she pumped her fist and celebrated with her teammates.
The subsequent free throw proved to be the final point of the game, and Ole Miss advanced to the second round of the SEC Tournament for the seventh consecutive season.
For Black, a senior who wasn't ready for her time at Ole Miss to end, the play was special.
"I think it was the biggest rebound of my career," said Black, who won two state titles while playing for Collins Hill. "And it just feels great to come back and do that in front of my home state."
Nobody wanted to see the shot go in more than Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner, who knows the only way her team is returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years is to make a major run in this tourney.
"She put it in the basket, and she made her free throw; that was a determining factor as well," Ladner said. "She made the play when we had to. We've got six seniors who are playing for their life right now. She understood the urgency; she just made a basketball play."
Black's shot was the winner in a back-and-forth game in which neither team ever really took control. There were 10 ties and 15 lead changes, including two ties and three lead changes in the final three minutes.
Ole Miss won big despite being outscored 56-14 in the paint, 14-5 on points off turnovers and 20-5 on bench points.
The Rebels did so by making 10 3-pointers -- they were once 10-of-18 but finished 10-of-25 -- and limiting a South Carolina team that was third in the SEC in 3-point shooting to just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
It was a difficult victory for the Rebels, who draw top seed and No. 4-ranked Tennessee at noon Friday in the quarterfinals, largely thanks to Black's heroics.
"It feels really good to get a win under your belt at the SEC tournament, whether it's by one point or by 10," Ladner said. "The game could have gone either way, and I just think it was the team that made the last play. I think that was the difference in the game."
Auburn 74, Florida 61: Alli Smalley scored a career- and game-high 29 points and made 5 of 7 three-point attempts to lead the 10th-seeded Tigers to a victory over No. 7-seed Florida.
The junior scored 17 of her points in the second half, and Auburn never trailed after taking a 32-26 lead into the break. Smalley was one of four Tigers who scored in double-figures. Among those joining her was Jordan Greenleaf, who scored 15 points and had 13 rebounds.
Vanderbilt 65, Arkansas 64 (OT): Arkansas came back from an 11-point second-half deficit to send it to overtime, but a 3-point play on a layup with 2:25 left by Jence Rhoads proved to be the difference for fifth-seeded Vanderbilt.
Rhoads tied Arkansas' Charity Ford for game-high honors with 21 points, and teammate Merideth Marsh added 19 for the Commodores, who avoided the upset bid by the 12th-seeded Razorbacks.
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