AUBURN - Nell Fortner's final home game as Auburn's women's basketball coach was no thing of beauty on the court. Auburn and Ole Miss combined to turn the ball over 50 times, miss 62 shots and make just one 3-point shot.
Nell Fortner said her team overcame adversity to win her final home game as Auburn coach/Todd Van Emst photo
But in the end, Fortner and her players could celebrate. The Tigers, trailing 19-6 in the first half, refused to let the game get away and finally won it 46-43 to send Fortner and three seniors out winners on their home court.
Auburn finished the regular season 13-16 overall and 5-11 in the SEC. Ole Miss fell to 12-17 and 2-14. Seeded No. 9, the Tigers will play at least one more time when they take on No. 8 seed Florida on Thursday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville.
"It sure is nice to get the final win at home and final win in the SEC season," said Fortner, who has resigned effective after her next loss. "I'm just really proud of the way the team kept fighting and kept believing until the end, because it was not a pretty day for us. I don't know if there was just a lid on the basket today. The best part about it was they just believed until the end."
The Tigers were tottering on the brink when Ole Miss went up 41-36 on two Nikki Byrd free throws with 4:11 left. But senior Chantel Hilliard scored a three-point play on the other end to cut it to 41-39. Byrd answered again to make it 43-39, but the Rebels were finished and the Tigers weren't.
Tyrese Tanner scored a three-point play and, with 1:50 left, converted a steal into two free throws and Auburn had its first lead of the game at 45-43. Auburn forced a turnover and, thanks to offensive rebounds by 5-foot-1 point guard Najat Ouardad and HIlliard, kept the ball until Ouardad made one of two free throws with 24 seconds left. Ole Miss never got off another shot.
Freshman Hasina Muhammad kept the Tigers in striking distance, scoring 19 points. Tanner scored 14, 9 inside the final four minutes.
The Tigers shot just 30.2 percent for the game and had 22 turnovers. Ole Miss shot 41.9 percent but had 28 turnovers. Auburn was 1-for-9 on 3-point tries and Ole miss was 0-fo-7. Nineteen Auburn offensive rebounds might have been the biggest difference.
"It was really kind of weird," Fortner said. "I knew we were ready to play. We were coming off that Alabama win. Everything was set up for a good day for us. For whatever reason, the ball just wasn't dropping for us. It seemed to be dropping easily for them. We had to fight hard. It's not a bad thing to have overcome adversity and win a game."
When it was over, seniors Parrisha Simmons, HIlliard and Morgan Jennings were honored. But on this day, it was Fortner the crowd of 3,485 came to see. Current and former players paid tribute on a video.
"You never know what kind of impact you make on people," Fortner said. "This is a special place. I've loved every minute of being here. It's nice to know you've made a difference."
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