By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – It wasn’t strictly business for Diamber Johnson, it was personal.
The senior guard from Pontotoc scored a game-high 21 points as Mississippi State (12-6, 2-3 SEC) picked up its second league road win of the season, beating Ole Miss 51-46.
“Every time I come here, it seems like someone reminds me to take this game personally,” said Johnson, who chose MSU over Ole Miss coming out of high school. “I tried to keep that in the back of my mind tonight at those times when we were struggling.”
In a game where both teams battled to get anything going offensively, Johnson’s hand was hot enough – 7 of 13 from the field, 6 of 7 from the line – to make the difference.
“Diamber wanted the ball,” Lady Bulldogs coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “She had the right look in her eyes and demanded the ball down the stretch.”
Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner didn’t argue with that assessment. “Diamber Johnson has always torched us,” Ladner said. “She runs the show, her demeanor never changes and she can put the ball in the basket. You take her out of the game and Mississippi State struggles. We were never able to do that.”
Ole Miss (12-7, 2-3) trailed 36-28 with 12:05 left but fought back to get within 1 (43-42) with 4:54 to play. But the Rebels would miss their next 10 shots from the floor.
“We never looked comfortable in anything we tried to do offensively,” said Ladner, whose team had won two SEC gams in a row. “I am a bit baffled.”
A basket and free throw by Porsha Porter and a 3-pointer by Johnson gave State breathing room at 51-43 with 1:35 left.
Porter added 9 points and 6 rebounds for the winners, who shot 19 of 56 (33.9 percent) from the field but hit 9 of 12 free throws.
Ole Miss senior Nikki Byrd scored her team’s first two baskets before MSU adjusted. She finished with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Valencia McFarland hit 4 of 22 shots, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range, and finished with 14 points for Ole Miss.
The Rebels hit 17 of 64 (26.6 percent) from the field and made just 9 of 20 free throws. They held their last lead at 26-25 16:45 left in the game.
Ole Miss is home against Georgia on Sunday afternoon, while Mississippi State is home against Auburn. The Rebels and Lady Bulldogs will have a rematch on Feb. 12 in Starkville.
MSU won 66-61 at Alabama last Thursday. … Ole Miss has dominated the all-time series, 61-21, but MSU has won four in a row and is 18-9 since the 2000 season. … MSU senior forward Ashley Brown, who’s averaging 5.2 points and 6.7 rebounds, missed the game after injuring a wrist in practice. … Tupelo’s Maggie McFerrin played 5 minutes for Ole Miss, missing her one 3-point attempt.