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NCAA Tournament Recap (Mississippi-Villanova)

Posted: Sat March 13, 1999 at 2:16 a.m EST

MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Freshman Jason Harrison hit two crucial free throws with 1:54 remaining and ninth-seeded Mississippi held off Villanova, 72-70, to earn its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in a first-round Midwest Region contest.

Villanova twice had a chance to tie it in the final seconds but missed from in close. John Celestand's short jumper from the right corner rimmed out, and Harold Brown's rushed follow did not fall.

After a timeout with 4.7 seconds left, the Wildcats were called for a technical foul for fouling before the ball was put into play. Harrison missed the two free throws, but the Rebels inbounded to Michael White, who ran out the clock.

"We're excited. This is the first NCAA win in Ole Miss history and I'm just thankful to be a part of it," Rebels coach Rod Barnes said. "We've had it tough all season. We've fought through adversity and continued to come back. I'm thankful to the university for giving me the opportunity for being part of history."

Marcus Hicks scored 21 points for Mississippi (20-12), which will play top-seeded Michigan State in the second round Sunday. The Rebels lost to Valparaiso on a buzzer-beater last year, to Temple in the first round in 1997 and to Kansas in 1981 in their only other NCAA Tournament apperances.

"I think you ask anybody on this team before the season what our main goal was to win an NCAA game," said Mississippi forward Keith Carter said. "It's a great feeling. We've been through some tough times this year, some ups and downs, but we continued to show character."

Malik Allen netted 19 points for the Wildcats (21-11), who were eliminated in the first round for the first time since 1995.

"It was a great year for the guys," Villanova coach Steve Lappas said. "Granted we would like to have gone further than one game in the NCAAs. But we came off 12 wins last year. If you would have told me that we'd go to the NCAAs at the beginning of the year I would have been excited, so it's been a good year."

Villanova, which had its last lead with 6:18 left in the first half, cut a 10-point Rebels' advantage to 45-43 on two free throws by T.J. Caouette with 11:59 remaining. But Carter and Harrison drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to complete a 9-2 run as Mississippi grabbed a 54-45 lead with 9:25 remaining.

Mississippi was unable to put away the game and the Wildcats crawled within 70-65 with just under two mintues left when Celestand buried a jumper. But Harrison connected on two free throws for what turned out to be the winning points.

"My philosophy is you win championships with good defense and you win basketball games with offense," added Barnes. "When you play a team the caliber of Villanova, it's going to be difficult to score. That's what I challenged these guys to do. It's easy to take shots, but it's difficult to go out there and defend. Our guys did a great job tonight."

Caouette nailed a 3-pointer frm the left wing with 1:44 to play, and after a timeout, Allen's bank shot in the lane brought Villanova within two points with 53 seconds remaining. Jason Smith missed a layup with 22 seconds left, giving the Wildcats a chance to tie or win with a 3-pointer, but they were not able to convert on the other end.

"We're hurting now, but we had an alright year," Brown said. "We had a good season in getting into the tournament. It is disappointing not to get further. Everytime we would get back into the game, they (Mississippi) would go on a run and hit a couple of threes. We fought back at the end, but we couldn't get over the hump."

Carter had 18 points and seven rebounds and Smith added 17 and nine for the Rebels, who shot 53 percent (24-of-45) and connected on 6-of-12 from 3-point range to overcome 18 turnovers. Harrison's 12 points gave the Rebels four players in double figures.

"It was a huge win with a lot of excitement," White said. "It felt really good to get that monkey off our back. We have nothing to lose now. We're not supposed to win anymore. We're real excited for the huge win for our university, our seniors and the guys who played for us last year."

Brown had 17 and nine points and Celestand netted 12 points for the Wildcats, who shot 42 percent (25-of-60) and made 7-of-23 from 3-point range. Villanova held a 31-30 advantage on the boards and connected on 13-of-15 from the foul line.

A layup by Rafal Bigus with 12 1/2 minutes remaing in the first half gave Villanova an 11-9 advantage. But the Wildcats would not score again until Brown drained a 3-pointer with 8:55 left as Smith scored the final six points of a 7-0 run that put Mississippi on top, 16-11.

Five straight points by Allen gave Villanova a 19-18 lead with 6:18 to go before halftime, but Harrison drained a 3-pointer to ignite 12-0 spurt. Hicks tallied four points during the run, which Rahim Lockhart capped with a dunk to make it 30-19 with just over three minutes left before the break.

"We didn't play well in the first half," added Lappas. We got better in the second half, but it was not quite enough. They're a quick team. We tried several different lineups. The smaller lineup worked at times, but it wasn't until late that the smaller lineup worked."

© 2000 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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