Lady Demons start fast before falling to Ole Miss in season opener

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OXFORD, Mississippi – The Northwestern State women’s basketball team started the 2017-18 with a flurry of 3-pointers against Ole Miss on Friday evening.

The fast start, however, did not last.

After pressing the homestanding Rebels early, the Lady Demons could not keep up the pace, dropping the season opener, 75-44, at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

“There were some good things,” second-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “I’m pleased with the fact our effort never stopped. Last year’s team, we would have folded some, and that’s where you see that growth from those sophomores. There were a lot of things we have to get cleaned up, but the hustle was there.”

One of those sophomores was Jasmyn Johnson, who earned her first career start and sparked a strong start for Northwestern State (0-1).

Johnson appeared in 22 games as a freshman and did not connect on a 3-pointer. Twice in the opening quarter Friday, Johnson sank 3s that pushed NSU’s lead to four points each time.

Johnson and another milestone maker were keys to the Lady Demons keeping the game close in the first quarter. With Northwestern State trailing 14-11, freshman Jha’ne Wheeler entered off the bench and calmly swished a game-tying 3-pointer on her first career field-goal attempt.

Northwestern State sank five of its seven first-quarter 3-point tries and trailed 23-18 after a quarter.

“In that first quarter, we were right there with them,” Dupuy said. “What you saw after was their depth wearing us down. At one point, we had three freshmen on the floor together who had never experienced a D-I game, and here they are playing on a Power Five floor for their first game.”

Where the Lady Demons shot 45.5 percent in the first quarter, an 8-minute scoring drought in the second quarter allowed the Rebels (1-0) to establish control of the game.

Ole Miss scored the final 12 points of the half against a short-handed Lady Demons team that was missing four players from its 15-person roster because of injuries. Included in that group is preseason second-team All-Southland Conference pick Cheyenne Brown.

Libba Gilliam paced Northwestern State with 14 points, tying her career high, while Johnson tallied the first double-figure scoring performance of her career, scoring 10 points.

The Rebels put three players in double figures, led by Madinah Muhammad’s game-high 27 points. Promise Taylor, a 6-foot-5 freshman, finished with 13 points while Shandricka Sessom, a preseason second-team All-SEC selection, added 12.

After the fast start, the Lady Demons scuffled shooting from the floor, hitting 9 of their final 44 shots, a .205 clip.

“Jasmyn came out confident shooting the ball,” Dupuy said. “Then there were times where our poise wasn’t there, and they took us out of what we wanted to do. Their athleticism and size took over.

“We thought if we handled the pressure, we could send them backdoor and get some easy layups. We got some layup opportunities, but we were worried about contact. We’ll look at that and stay positive heading into Sunday’s game.”

The Lady Demons return to action Sunday, hosting LeTourneau in their home opener. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at Prather Coliseum.

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