GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Ticker) -- When Kareem Rush missed seven games this season with a thumb injury, it allowed players like Clarence Gilbert to carry more of the load for Missouri. Now it appears those torn ligaments were a blessing in disguise.
Gilbert took a feed from Rush and buried a baseline jumper with nine-tenths of a second left as Missouri won its first NCAA Tournament game in six years, 70-68, over Georgia in an East Region first-round contest at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The NCAA victory was the first for second-year Tigers coach Quin Snyder, who will face his alma mater, Duke, in the second round on Saturday.
"I thought our team played hard, especially on the defensive end," said Snyder. "I'm excited about tonight and really pleased with the effort the kids put forth. They showed a tremendous amount of character making that play." With his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, looking on, Snyder watched his team allow Georgia to score 10 straight points down the stretch and force a 68-68 tie on Rashad Wright's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 22 seconds left.
Snyder called timeout and put the ball in the hands of Rush, the Big 12 Conference's leading scorer (21.2 ppg) who tore ligaments in his left thumb on February 5, knocking him out of action for a month.
Rush drove the lane, drew the defense and fed Gilbert on the right baseline. The 6-2 junior from Florida found nothing but net on his fallaway, and a desperation shot at the buzzer by Georgia was no good.
"It was just a shot. It was a big shot, but it was just a shot," said Gilbert. "I'm supposed to make those." "Basically, we try to clear out the side for Kareem and put a shooter in the corner," Snyder said. "Georgia played it well and pushed him back." Freshman Arthur Johnson scored 15 points -- two shy of a season high -- for Missouri (20-12), which had dropped two straight opening-round games since a victory over Indiana in 1995.
Rush collected 12 points and eight rebounds and Gilbert, Tajudeen Soyoye and Rickey Paulding had 10 points apiece for the Tigers, who forced 18 turnovers and made six 3-pointers.
After the dramatic victory, Rush wanted to look ahead to the nation's top-ranked team.
"They're the best team in America right now," he said. "It will be a challenge for us, but we're not intimidated at all. We're just going to go out and play our game." Robb Dryden had 18 points and Anthony Evans added 16 with 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs (16-15). All but three of Evans' points came in the first half.
Georgia is without an NCAA Tournament victory since 1996.
"I certainly thought it was a great 8-9 game in the NCAA tournament," said Georgia coach Jim Harrick. "It's all a game of runs. They made a run, we made a run, they made a run, we made a run. Gilbert made a great shot. That's the way it goes." A controversial selection as a No. 8 seed, the Bulldogs did not do much to validate their selection by falling behind, 15-0. But the tide slowly began to turn and Georgia grabbed a 26-25 lead with 4:49 left in the first half on a free throw by Wright.
The Bulldogs took a 33-32 lead into intermission and most of the second half was tight until Johnson had six straight points to give Missouri a 66-55 advantage with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. Two free throws by Tajudeen Soyoye maintained the 11-point cushion at 68-57 with 3:51 remaining.
A basket in the lane by Dryden began Georgia's comeback. Adrian Jones and D.A. Layne had baskets before Evans hit two free throws with a minute to play to bring the Bulldogs within three points.
After Rush traveled, Wright took a feed from Jones and tied it.
Georgia held a 36-25 advantage on the boards and shot 46 percent (25-of-54) compared to 43 percent (23-of-58) by the Tigers.
"Our goal was to get into the NCAA Tournament," Dryden said. "We accomplished that goal. We played our hearts out, we rallied twice and we had a chance to win. It was a chance to come out to the tournament and show everyone what we could do. It's really been great." This was the first meeting between the schools, but Harrick and Missouri were involved in one of the most famous endings in NCAA Tournament history.
In the second round of the 1995 tournament, Harrick called a play for Tyus Edney, who went the length of the court in the final five seconds and hit a runner at the buzzer to give UCLA a 75-74 victory over Missouri.