KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Ticker) -- Notre Dame broke out the green uniforms in honor of St. Patrick's Day, but Jason Harrison would have nothing to do with the luck of the Irish.
The 5-5 point guard drilled a 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining as Mississippi defeated Notre Dame, 59-56, in a Midwest Region second-round game to advance to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
"I looked at the shot clock and it was at eight seconds and I knew I had to make a big play," said Harrison, who scored only seven points. "I hadn't made a big play for my team in a while." The Rebels (27-7), who already have set a school record for wins, will take on Arizona in the regional semifinals in San Antonio on Friday. Prior to this season, Mississippi had won only one NCAA Tournament game.
"I am just thankful to be part of such a special group of young men," Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said. "This is unbelievable. This is a great win for our program, for our basketball team." Notre Dame (20-10) rallied from an eight-point deficit to take a 55-54 lead when Ryan Humphrey banked in a jumper from the left wing with 1:22 remaining.
But while Harrison may have been the smallest player on the court, he showed he had one of the biggest hearts, calming making a 23-footer from the top of the key to give Mississippi a 57-55 lead.
The Fighting Irish appeared to be in position to tie it, getting the ball inside to Humphrey, but his layup rolled off the rim with 24 seconds left. Emmanuel Wade made 1-of-2 from the line to give the Rebels a 58-55 lead with 22 seconds left.
Mississippi inadvertently fouled Matt Carroll, an 86-percent foul shooter. But Carroll made only 1-of-2 from the line, leaving the Irish behind, 58-56, with 19 seconds to go.
Mississippi's David Sanders gave the Irish another chance by missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds left, but the sophomore guard quickly redeemed himself with a defensive play that will long be remembered by Mississippi fans.
With the time running down, Caroll went up for a potential game-winning 3-pointer from the left wing, but Sanders lept toward the shooter and blocked the shot. Jason Flanigan hit 1-of-2 from the line with two seconds left before Humphrey's desperation heave went over the backboard as time expired.
"Defense got us this far, and in that situation, I would rather be on defense," Sanders said. "I just knew the play they were running the whole game, so I was watching them to make sure they didn't get the open shot." Notre Dame its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990 and was trying to reach the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1987.
"It's always difficult to lose, especially the last game," Notre Dame junior forward David Graves said. "We all feel for the seniors and the managers. But we can't get down. We haven't been to the tournament for 11 years and to win a game was great. But today just wasn't our day." Notre Dame's had all kinds of trouble attacking Mississippi's halfcourt defense, yet still had a chance to win despite shooting only 29 percent (18-of-62) from the field. The Fighting Irish endured a frustrating second half, when they made only 7-of-33 shots.
"It was a tough way to end the season," Notre Dame forward Troy Murphy said. "It was a heck of a game, just exhausting. It was a heck of a year. I'm just hanging on, I guess." Now Notre Dame coach Mike Brey must deal with the possible that his best player could opt for the NBA draft one year early.
"I want the best for him," Brey said. "He led this team back on the college map this year. If all I have is this season with him, I will be a happy man." Rahim Lockhart had 24 points for the Rebels and outplayed Murphy, the co-Big East Player of the Year. Murphy scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds but made just 4-of-16 shots. No other Mississippi player had more than seven points.
Murphy and company had a hard time containing Lockhart, who was 10-of-16 from the field.
"I feel like the coaches put a lot of confidence in me because at the beginning of the game, they told me they were going to be coming to me a lot in this game," Lockhart said. "My teammates gave up a lot of shots to get me the ball." Murphy and Humphrey kept Notre Dame in the game virtually by themselves, playing all 40 minutes and collecting double-doubles. But Mississippi took away Notre Dame's perimeter game, holding the Irish to just 2-of-14 from 3-point range.
"Rahim Lockhart is one of the best players I've played against this year," Humphrey said. "He is really big and tough. We just have to fight through it and the team just has to come back for next year." Lockhart was dominant in the first half, scoring 16 points and helping the Rebels nurse a small lead throughout most of the period. Notre Dame shot 38 percent (11-of-29) in the first half, but Humphrey's turnaround jumper in the lane with 1:27 remaining gave the Irish a 29-28 halftime lead.
"Notre Dame played their hearts out," Barnes said. "I believe that our depth hurt them as the game went on. They missed some easy shots." Mississippi opened the second half with a 9-2 spurt, taking a 39-31 lead on Sanders' layup with 16:59 to play. The Irish started containing Lockhart and slowly fought their way back into the contest.
Humphrey's 3-point play tied it, 51-51, with 5:08 remaining before Wade drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Rebels a 54-51 lead with four minutes to play.
Humphrey, who scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, scored on a driving layup with 3:39 to left to bring Notre Dame within one. After missing four chances to go ahead, the Irish finally gained the lead on Humphrey's jumper with 1:22 to go.