Pittsburgh narrowly defeats Mississippi State in First Four game
Jamarius Burton made a go-ahead jumper with 10 seconds left and Pitt edged Mississippi State 60-59 in a back-and-forth First Four game Tuesday night that featured 21 lead changes — most in the NCAA Tournament in five years.
Mississippi State had a great chance to win at the end, but Shakeel Moore missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner with two seconds remaining off an inbounds play. D.J. Jeffries’ tip-in attempt was off target just before the buzzer.
Nelly Cummings led Pitt with 15 points. Greg Elliott scored 13 and Blake Hinson added 12 as the Panthers (23-11) won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2014.
They slotted into the Midwest Region bracket as the 11th seed and advanced to face No. 6 seed Iowa State on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“We showed toughness, resiliency,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “We were who we’ve been all year, and it wasn’t pretty — but it was beautiful.”
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A layup by Tolu Smith gave Mississippi State a 59-58 advantage with 32 seconds left, but Pitt — after a three-minute scoring drought — grabbed the lead back on Burton’s short jumper.
Guillermo Diaz Graham blocked Smith’s driving layup attempt out of bounds with 2.7 seconds left, setting up the final sequence.
“I did a block — I don’t even know how — with my left hand,” the exhausted 6-foot-11 freshman said. “I usually don’t use my left hand. And I blocked it, and I knew it was a big play, so I just let the energy go out.”
Dashawn Davis had 15 points for the Bulldogs (21-13), and Moore scored 13.
Burton, who spent nearly seven minutes on the bench after picking up his fourth foul, said he knew his last shot was going in.
“When I had the ball in my hands the last 30 seconds or so, I just told myself I was built for it,” said Burton, who finished with six points. “And I just got to a spot and let it go, and I had complete confidence in myself. That was pretty much everything that went down.”
The 3-pointers were being launched right away as the teams combined for 13 in the first half.
Mississippi State, not a good outside shooting team, hit four in the first five minutes but cooled off after that. The Panthers went 8 for 13 from beyond the arc in the opening period.
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The teams hit just one each from long range in the second half.
“Every team is going to make adjustments at halftime, so I think we had to make the same type of adjustments and realize what type of game we were in and take what the defense was giving us,” Cummings said.
A GOOD LOOK
Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said he couldn’t quarrel with the choices his players made in the last few seconds.
“It was a heck of a look,” Jans said of Moore’s missed 3. “Fortunately we got it off quick enough where we had at least one tap at it. I don’t think the second one was probably in time, but at that point it’s all you can ask for, a chance — the ball is in the air — to win an NCAA Tournament game and still have enough time to get a putback.”
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Mississippi State: Came out firing from long range, but in the second half returned to the inside game that got the Bulldogs this far. They scored 30 points in the paint.
“When you outright rebound someone 49-28, you usually expect to win,” Jans said. “But you’ve got to give Pitt a lot of credit, they obviously played well enough to win. We struggled in the first half to guard them. We just couldn’t contain the 3, and it was still a one-point game.”
Pitt: Were better from outside and finally managed to open a lead against Mississippi State’s solid perimeter defense.
“The attention to detail we had to have to maintain that throughout the game was something that we talked about as soon as we found out who we were playing,” Cummings said.