Dayton, Ohio – Jamerius Burton hit the go-ahead basket with 10 seconds remaining to give Pitt a thrilling 60-59 NCAA tournament victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday evening. The Panthers saved Mississippi State’s final possession in which the Bulldogs failed three shot attempts, and advanced to Friday’s first round game against sixth-seeded Iowa State in Greensboro.
The win represented the Panthers’ first NCAA tournament win since the 2014 season and first under fifth-year head coach Jeff Capel. The first four matchups relied on the billing of two evenly matched teams.
The game saw 21 lead changes with both teams holding the lead for at least 15 minutes. From the 8:52 mark in the first half until a Blake Hinson three-pointer with 3:08 left in the game, neither team had a lead of more than three points. Hinson’s three pointer drove home a strong Pitt squad at the University of Dayton Arena and gave the Panthers a 58–52 advantage.
The Bulldogs then went on to score seven straight points to take a 59–58 lead, but with the game on the line, Burton’s number was called and he delivered a clutch basket to punch his team’s ticket to the next round and win his own game. 23rd won. Season.
Burton said, “When I had the ball in my hand in the last 30 seconds, I told myself I was made for this, and I just got to a spot and let it go, and I had full confidence in myself.” “It was pretty much everything that went down.”
It was clear Burton would have the ball in his hands, as he has done so many times this year with the game on the line, but it was only his third made basket of the game. He finished with 6 points in 19 minutes due to foul trouble, but he played down the stretch on his biggest possession of the game.
The Bulldogs were hot out of the gates and made four of their first five three-point attempts, and built a 14–8 advantage, but Pitt’s subsequent 10–0 run gave the Panthers an 18–14 lead. before that game turned into a chess match for the remainder of the competition.
The Bulldogs weren’t expected to shoot well from the outside, but they found a distinct advantage inside and used it to open up a 27–13 lead in the rebounding department in the first half. The Panthers retaliated by eight making three in the half, but then the script of the game was turned in the second half. Pitt made only one three-pointer after halftime, but kept the rebounding margin slightly more respectable at 22–15.
Pitt point guard Nellie Cummings led the offense several times. He had previously played in the NCAA Tournament with Colgate and his experience shined through. Cummings topped Pitt with 15 points and four assists.
Greg Elliott added 13, Hinson 12 and Nike Sibande added 11 off the bench. In this one the Panthers were without center Federico Federico as he is still recovering from an injury sustained in the ACC Tournament.
This meant that Guillermo Diaz Graham, Pitt’s 7-foot freshman, would make his first career start in the tournament. Diaz Graham finished with 3 points and 5 rebounds, but was one of Pitt’s biggest stars on Tuesday.
Tolu Smith of Mississippi State is one of the dominant big men in the SEC and was expected to be the decisive advantage for the Bulldogs, but was held to a modest 13 points and 8 rebounds. He struggled against Diaz Graham’s length at times and also finished with five turnovers in the game. Smith’s final shot was swat by the Pitt freshman on the final possession.
The Panthers will return to action on Friday as they take on Iowa State at 3:10 p.m. in Greensboro. Should Pitt advance, they will face third-seeded Xavier on Sunday. The Musketeers are coached by Pit alum Sean Miller.