For three quarters, Mississippi University for Women senior Rokila Wallace, the leading scorer in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, was held scoreless by visiting Millsaps College.
But with the Owls, searching for their first win of the season, leading by one heading into the fourth quarter, the Columbus High School grad took over.
Wallace scored all of her game-high 16 points during the fourth quarter, including a 9-of-11 effort from the line, as the Owls defeated the Majors 57-51, setting off a major postgame celebration.
“I am soaked to the bone right now because the kids decided to spray all of the water on me,” a very wet Owls coach Drew Johnson said outside the locker room a flight up from the Pohl Gym floor. “I’d do it again and again and again if it means we’re winning.”
The win came against a Millsaps team which had defeated The W 64-60 on Nov. 21 in Jackson.
“We made shots down the stretch that we didn’t make last time, and they didn’t make shots down the stretch that they made last time,” Johnson said. “Our kids just strapped up and played. They came out ready to play today and played hard all four quarters. We came out with energy, which is something we’ve had an issue doing.”
The game was fairly tight throughout, with the biggest lead by either team an eight-point bulge The W enjoyed early in the second quarter. The Owls threatened to blow out the Majors, with five players contributing to a 17-2 run to start the period. But Meagan Bickman’s only two baskets of the game, back-to-back 3-pointers 29 seconds apart, kept things close, and the Owls led just 23-21 at the half.
With Wallace not finding the range, Christiana Harris scored 15 points, Jasmine Shaw totaled 9, and MG Chamberlain added 8 for the Owls.
“I thought MG played her butt off,” Johnson said. “She was an anchor for us down there. Christiana was very steady for us the entire game. She’s been steady for us the entire time she’s been here, but she was exceptionally steady for us today.”
But the fourth quarter was played at a different pace, as both the Owls and Majors had their best offensive output of the night in the final period. And that’s when Wallace was at her best.
“This girl over here is a madwoman,” Johnson said of Wallace. “She’s just all over the place. That’s what happens when you’re that talented. You can’t keep her down.”
The Majors tried, fouling Wallace six times during the fourth quarter. But while the Majors hit eight free throws for the game, Wallace hit nine, on 11 attempts, during the final 10 minutes.
“Free throws win games,” Wallace said simply. “You’re by yourself, nobody’s contesting it, and you knock them down. If I hadn’t, they would have had a chance to get back in the game.”
The Majors tied the Owls early in the fourth but never took the lead, and Wallace’s two free throws with 1:20 left gave the hosts a 52-46 lead. A 3-pointer by Briasha King — who led three Majors in double figures with 15 points — kept things interesting, but Wallace hit 5 of 6 free throws the rest of the way to foil any rally.
And Wallace played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls.
The Owls shot just 32.8 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 42-35, but they forced 25 turnovers while committing 15 and took nine more shots than the Majors. The W held a 24-9 edge in points off turnovers.
Wallace led The W with 8 rebounds, while Hannah Duran totaled 5 assists and Shaw led with 5 steals. Add it all up, and you have the Owls’ first victory after seven defeats and their first win as a program since a 67-61 win over Oakwood on Feb. 20, 2020.
“We know our players now,” Wallace said. “In the beginning, we knew every player individually, but we didn’t know each other as a team. We finally have that chemistry.”
“I’ve been saying all along, once we put all the pieces together, we’re going to be fine,” he said. “This was a major step in the right direction.”