OXFORD, Miss. — In 10 seasons at Delta State, Sandra Rushing won a lot of games in Mississippi. Likewise for Maggie Proffitt, an undefeated state champion at Starkville Academy last season.
Sunday, they added another – their biggest one yet.
The Central Arkansas women's basketball team, with its longtime Mississippi-based coach and three players from the Magnolia State, went into Oxford and surprised the Ole Miss Rebels on Sunday, battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit for a 66-63 win at the Tad Smith Coliseum – the Sugar Bears' second win, and first on the road, against an SEC team.
"I'm so proud of this win," said Rushing, who has 420 of them during her career. "I'm so excited, this is huge for our program and this young team. I'm so happy and proud for them, and our fans were great today and I really don't even know what to say.."
Trailing 37-27 at the half, the Sugar Bears (2-0) clawed back and took a 50-48 lead with 10:40 to play on a steal and layup by freshman guard Brianna Mullins. They kept the lead until the Rebels' Claudia Ortiz hit a 3-pointer to put Ole Miss ahead 55-54 with 4:33 to play.
Proffitt, who came off the bench to score 14 points and grab six rebounds with an assist and steal in 30 minutes, gave the Sugar Bears the lead again with 2:35 to play and senior Micah Rice followed a few seconds later with a steal and layup to push the UCA lead 58-55.
Courtney Duever, who had a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds for her 16th career double-double, scored the next two baskets – the second set up after a key defensive rebound by Proffitt on an errant shot from the Rebels' Gracie Frizzell – to extend the Sugar Bear lead to seven at 62-55 with 1:08 to play.
The Rebels would not go down quietly, getting five straight points from Shequila Joseph to make it a two-point game with 29 seconds remaining. After an Ole Miss foul on the ensuing inbounds play, Duever made a pair of free throws to make it 64-60, but Joseph had an answer with a 3-pointer with 23 seconds on the clock to cut the UCA lead to just one.
Ole Miss sent Proffitt to the line with 17 seconds to go, and after she missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Rebels had possession with a chance to regain the lead – but Ortiz misfired on a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play and Tia Faleru missed on her chance after grabbing the offensive rebound. Duever corralled Faleru's miss, went to the line for a pair of free throws with just over a second remaining, made both and the Sugar Bears left with a benchmark win for a young team with nine newcomers.
"Courtney played great and hitting those free throws down the stretch was huge for us," Rushing said. "And our freshmen … Maggie did a tremendous job, Brianna Mullins made big plays, it was just an all-out effort. And Micah did a great job for us, she's the glue that keeps us together and keeps these young freshmen calm."
Mullins had nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 24 minutes and Rice had eight points, six rebounds and a career-high five steals while playing a team-high 37 minutes.
Rice, who with Duever are the only players remaining who were a part of the Sugar Bears' win over Alabama in 2011, found more satisfaction in Sunday's win than the previous triumph against an SEC foe.
"This was a really big win for our program," she said. "Definitely bigger than the last one, just because that team was so experienced and it was at home. To come on the road with so many fresh faces, shows how talented we are, that we're relentless and willing to battle after being down at halftime, and shows what the future holds for the Sugar Bears."
The Sugar Bears outshot the Rebels 52 percent (26 of 50) to just 29.2 (21-72), but Ole Miss was able to keep it close by hitting 6 of 23 from 3-point range, compared to just 1 of 11 for the Sugar Bears.
In building a 10-point halftime lead, the Rebels held sizable advantages in both turnovers and free throws, but went just two-for-two at the line in the second half and had eight turnovers to the Sugar Bears' seven. UCA also battled Ole Miss nearly evenly on the boards in the second half, getting 24 to the Rebels' 25 after being out rebounded 17-12 in the first.
"I feel like in the first half we came out a little nervous," Rushing said. "We didn't compete like I wanted to. We talked about it at halftime – a lot of the turnovers were our mistakes, and that goes back to being nervous. I think we made some good adjustments at halftime and we were able to take them out of what they'd been doing."
The Sugar Bears will host crosstown foe Central Baptist at 5:30 p.m. in the Farris Center in the first half of a doubleheader with the UCA volleyball team, then hit the road again to face Indiana in Bloomington next Monday.