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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 22 points and nine rebounds.

No. 3 Dayton (24-12) will look to win its first NIT championship since 1968 when it faces North Carolina 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 in its three previous NIT games - 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.

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 fewer, 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."

The Rebels, who trailed by no more than seven points in the final five minutes, had several chances to take control, but their lack of composure down the stretch hurt them.

N. Carolina 68, R. Island 67: The reigning NCAA champs escaped the Rams, thanks to a no-call by the referees on Rhode Island's last play in overtime. Lamonte Ulmer appeared to have been tripped by a Tar Heel defender as he dribbled downcourt, but the whistle didn't blow and fourth-seeded North Carolina came up with the ball and reached the championship game.

Deon Thompson led the Tar Heels with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Keith Cothran led Rhode Island with 23 points.

Will Graves added 14 points and Tyler Zeller 13 for the Tar Heels (20-16), who will try to become the first school to follow a NCAA championship with an NIT title.

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