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Dayton defeats Mississippi, advances to NIT final

With one quick first step, Trevor Gaskins had a wide open lane in front of him.

And even he seemed caught off guard by all that space.

With Mississippi trailing by a basket with 12 seconds left in last night's NIT semifinals against Dayton, Gaskins dribbled swiftly toward the hoop, but his layup attempt barely got above the rim.

That proved to be the momentum-killer for the second-seeded Rebels, as the Flyers escaped with a 68-63 win at the Garden.

Chris Johnson led Dayton with a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds.

No. 3 Dayton (24-12) will look to win its first NIT championship since 1968 when it faces either North Carolina or Rhode Island in tomorrow's title game.

"Gaston's a dangerous player," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "He had a pretty good look, but London [Warren] did a good job of forcing him to shoot at an awkward angle. They executed what the wanted [on that play]. . . . He just missed it."

Ole Miss entered the contest averaging 88 points per game in its three straight NIT appearances - the highest of any team in the tournament. But the Rebels (24-11) struggled to find their rhythm, shooting 33.9 percent (21 of 62) from the field and 26.1 percent (6 of 23) from three-point range.

Dayton's defensive pressure was key, said Gregory, whose team outrebounded Ole Miss 45-38 and held the Rebels to just 10 offensive boards.

The coach offered a smile and a sigh of relief when asked about his team's poor track record in tight games. (The Flyers have lost 11 games this season by five points or less, according to Gregory.) "They just kept fighting," he said of his players. "For some reason, I just had a feeling that something good was going to happen to these guys."

Ole Miss pulled to within 34-30 at the break, thanks to a steal and fast break layup by Gaskins with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. The Rebels had several chances to take control, but their lack of composure down the stretch hurt them.

With 3:09 left to play and Ole Miss trailing 62-58, freshman forward Reginald Buckner was issued a technical foul following a jump ball by the referees. Dayton's Johnson hit the ensuing free throws.

Though Buckner's tantrum might not have cost Ole Miss the game, the Rebels began to unravel from that point on - culminating in Gaskin's missed layup.

"We know we could have easily given up but we showed a lot of character, showing that we still wanted it," Johnson said. "And we have an opportunity to still do something special here at the NIT at Madison Square Garden."


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