Mississippi State’s season ends with First Four loss to Pittsburgh

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Mississippi State got the shot it wanted.

It missed.

It got a chance to tap in the rebound.

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It bounced off the rim.

It had yet another path to a game-winning putback.

The buzzer sounded before it got to them.

And just like that, six weeks of clawing for an NCAA Tournament berth and months waiting for this opportunity was over, along with the Bulldogs’ season.

Jamarius Burton made a go-ahead jumper with 10 seconds left and Pittsburgh edged Mississippi State 60-59 in a back-and-forth First Four game Tuesday night that featured 21 lead changes — the 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.

“It was a heck of a look,” Mississippi State coach Chris 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.”

The back-and-forth game seemed an appropriate finish for a season to match for Mississippi State (21-13). It started 11-0, then lost seven of its first eight SEC games before pulling out of its spin to win nine of the next 12 and secure an NCAA Tournament berth in Jans’ first season as head coach.

“We’ve been through a lot of adversity, and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. We’ve built a brotherhood that’s forever going to be a brotherhood. Tonight we came up short. It’s not the result that we wanted, but I’m proud of us,” said Jeffries, who finished with nine points and 13 rebounds.

Nelly Cummings led Pitt with 15 points. Greg Elliott scored 13 and Blake Hinson 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.”

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, and Moore scored 13.

After Graham’s block, Davis inbounded the ball on the left side of the basket and Moore was wide open in the right corner. He got his 3-pointer off in plenty of time, but it bounced off the near side of the rim. Jeffries also got a clean look at the tip-in, but it came off the backboard and the rim in nearly the same spot that Moore’s shot did. Cameron Matthews got the final just as the buzzer, but his putback missed anyway.

Mississippi State only made 6 of 23 3-point attempts in the game — Moore was 2-for-7 — and has shot 26.6 percent from outside this season. Jans said Moore’s shot was one of several options on the play, and he wasn’t upset that the team’s season came down to that shot rather than a more high-percentage one.

“He was the first one into the locker room, and all I said was that was a heck of a look,” Jans said. “He gets it. I don’t think he’s going to wear that very long. I think anyone would be disappointed. But we all understand how that works, and it was a heck of a look. I was glad that he had the look.”