By David Dawson
OXFORD, Miss. - The Vanderbilt women will certainly remember participating in the last game ever played at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The memories won't be pleasant.
Ole Miss junior Erika Sisk converted a 3-point play with 1.5 seconds remaining and the Rebels sent the Commodores to a stinging 55-52 loss in the SEC opener for both teams on Sunday. The defeat ended a 10-game winning streak for the Commodores (11-3, 0-1), who owned a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter and a five-point lead with 2:02 remaining but couldn't hold on.
Vanderbilt committed a season-high 26 turnovers, including two crucial miscues in the final 48 seconds. The Rebels (9-5, 1-0) came into the game with a +10.9 turnover margin, the second-best mark in the nation.
"I give Ole Miss credit for coming back -- but we certainly helped them do it," said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. "When it got late and got loud, we didn't respond well."
Sisk's game-winning basket gave Ole Miss the lead for the first time since the opening minute of the game. Sisk finished with a game-high 18 points. Christa Reed scored 16 to lead the Commodores.
Ole Miss outscored Vanderbilt 20-5 during the final 7:03 of the fourth quarter to rally for the win and close out Tad Smith Coliseum's 50-year history in dramatic fashion. The Ole Miss teams will now move into their new $95 million facility -- The Pavilion.
Balcomb said she was hoping to see more mental toughness from her team.
"The bottom line was that nobody stepped up for us down the stretch," she said. "But we will learn from this game and learn from our mistakes."
Ole Miss' Shequila Joseph made two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining to the tie the game at 52-52. Vanderbilt called a timeout and -- utilizing a first-year rule in women's basketball -- elected to advance the ball to midcourt. The Commodores, however, threw the inbounds pass out of bounds without the ball being touched, giving Ole Miss possession.
Sisk then took the ensuing inbound pass and bolted down the floor, scoring a layup and getting fouled. After Sisk converted the free throw, the Commodores had one final possession, but Marqu'es Webb's desperation shot from well beyond half-court was off the mark.
"It's extremely disappointing because we felt like everybody was on the same page coming into the game," said Balcomb. "But we didn't finish well, obviously."
Vanderbilt's defense was the story of the first half. The Commodores limited Ole Miss to 36 percent shooting from the floor (9-of-25), including 0-of-7 from 3-point range. Ole Miss sophomore Shandricka Sessom, who came into the game as the SEC's leading scorer, was just 3-of-12 from the floor in the first 20 minutes. She finished with 12 points -- six below her average -- and was 5-of-20 from the floor.
The Commodores got off to a hot start, making five of their first six shots from the floor while running out to an early 12-4 lead near the midway mark of the first quarter, and Vanderbilt maintained the lead the rest of the half.
Ole Miss narrowed the gap to 21-18 on a basket by Bretta Hart with 4:07 to go in the second quarter, but Vanderbilt closed the period on a 6-0 run, including two straight baskets by Batey, to rebuild a 29-20 lead at the half.
The Rebels trimmed Vanderbilt's lead to 31-30 near the midway mark of the third quarter, but Vanderbilt reeled off a 9-2 run to extend the lead to 40-32 at the end of the period. Vanderbilt had two just two field goals in the quarter -- both of which came in the final 30 seconds -- but went 7-of-9 from the foul line to maintain the lead. A 3-point play by Spears with 30 seconds left in the quarter gave VU a 38-32 lead and Long capped the run with a late basket.
The Commodores extended the advantage to 47-35 on a 3-pointer by Reed with 7:03 left in the game, but the Rebels put together a 10-2 run to get back in the game, ultimately setting up the last-second heroics by Sisk.
Vanderbilt hosts No. 2-ranked South Carolina on Thursday night.