DULUTH As the final buzzer sounded, Santell Black was hoisted high in celebration at midcourt by much larger Ole Miss teammate Nikki Byrd.
Stretching out like she had seconds before, 5-foot-4 Black thrust her right arm toward the ceiling of the Arena at Gwinnett Center and pointed her index finger high as she looked over at her private cheering section behind the Rebels bench.
When South Carolina took a 10-0 lead in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament on Thursday, it looked like the Collins Hill graduate's college career might be about to come to an end in the arena where she celebrated two Class AAAAA high school championships with the Eagles.
Ole Miss battled back, though, and then Black overshadowed like everyone else by Maya Moore at Collins Hill became an unlikely hero by grabbing a rebound she should have had no chance at getting.
The 5-foot-4 senior point guard scored on a putback in traffic and was fouled in the process with 11.6 seconds remaining. Black, who hadn't been at the line previously, then calmly sank the deciding free throw to give Ole Miss a 64-63 victory.
"I think that was the biggest rebound of my career," said Black, more known for her steals and assists. "It feels great to do come back and do that in front of my family and friends."
Although the shortest player in the game, the rebound was Black's sixth to go with nine points, two assists and one steal. Three of the rebounds came on the offensive boards.
"I was just determined to do whatever it took for my team," Black said.
The victory moved Ole Miss (17-13) into today's noon quarterfinal against No. 1-seeded and No. 4-ranked Tennessee (27-2). The Rebels will be heavy underdogs, but an upset is needed if Ole Miss has any hope of an NCAA Tournament bid.
"You have six seniors playing for their life right now," Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said.
The Rebels are still breathing thanks to Black.
"I think she understood the urgency," Ladner said.
"I did all the dirty work. I was a trash player basically," Black said of her day's work. "That paid off for us in the end."
Ole Miss got back into the game after their slow start thanks to 3-point shooting. Bianca Thomas was 6 of 7 en route to 22 points. Elizabeth Robertson hit four 3-pointers and scored 19 points.
Black, meanwhile, did everthing except hit a 3-pointer.
"She made the play when she had to," Ladner said.
Auburn 74, Florida 61
Auburn freshman Blanche Alverson, who led Buford to the Class AA state title last year, backed up Alli Smalley's 29-point effort by scoring 13 points in a strong all-round performance as the Tigers upset Florida 74-61 in the final game of the afternoon session.
The 6-foot-3 Alverson had seven rebounds, five assists a block and a steal She made 4 of 9 shots, going 3-7 from behind the 3-point arc, and was 2 of 3 at the foul line.
Jordan Jones, a redshirt sophomore for Florida from Collins Hill, was held to seven points before fouling out. She was 2 of 7 from the floor, including 1 of 4 on 3-pointers.
No. 10 seed Auburn (15-15) will play No. 2 Kentucky (23-6) at 2:30 p.m. today to conclude the afternoon quarterfinal session.
Vanderbilt 65, Arkansas 64 (OT)
Defending SEC champion Vanderbilt (21-9) edged Arkansas 65-64 in overtime to open the first-round night session and will play Mississippi State (18-11) at 6:30 p.m. today in the quarterfinals.
Norcross grad Tiffany Clarke scored five points for Vanderbilt. The teams were part of a four-way tie for third place with LSU and Georgia during the regular season, but Mississippi State got the No. 3 seed and Vandy was No. 5 because of tiebreakers.
No. 6 seed Georgia played Alabama in the last game of the first round Thursday night, with the winner to face LSU at 9 p.m. today.