It doesn't matter that Michael White was 0-for-3 from the floor, turned the ball over once and never made it to the free throw line. What matters is that he plays a really mean game of keepaway.
Marcus Hicks' 21 points led four players in double figures, Jason Harrison made two big free throws and White scurried around long enough to save Mississippi's wacky 72-70 victory over Villanova on Friday in the first round at the Midwest Regional.
It was the first NCAA tournament victory for ninth-seeded Mississippi (20-12), best known for losing to tiny Valparaiso last year on Bryce Drew's buzzer-beater 3-pointer. The Rebels will play top-seeded Michigan State on Sunday in the second round.
"To tell you the truth, with 4.7 seconds left, I was hoping that Valpo wasn't going to reoccur," said Keith Carter, who finished with 18 points. "We were up 2. Mike did a good job of controlling the ball and running the time out. Valpo has spurred us on all year, that we were that close to getting a win."
Harrison, at 5-foot-5 the tiniest player on the floor, made two free throws with 1:54 left to give Ole Miss a 72-65 lead with 1:54 left. But T.J. Caouette's 3-pointer with 1:45 left for eighth-seeded Villanova cut the lead to 72-68. Malik Allen followed up with a layup, and it was 72-70 with 55 seconds left.
Jason Smith missed a layup for the Rebels, but John Celestand and Howard Brown's jumpers were both off for Villanova. After a timeout with 4.7 seconds left, 'Nova went for the intentional foul, but Allen was called for a technical when he shoved Marcus Hicks to the ground.
Harrison missed both free throws, but the Rebels kept possession of the ball. White got the inbounds pass and scurried around right under Villanova's basket managing to stay just out of reach of the Villanova players until time ran out.
"We just couldn't get there, couldn't get over the hump," Villanova coach Steve Lappas said. "It looked like we might get over the hump with the last shot of the game, but we just couldn't do it."
As the buzzer sounded, the Rebels started whooping and reserves and fans stormed the floor. Celestand lay on the floor, pounding his hand in frustration.
"It's not the way you want to end things," said Celestand, who finished with 12 after averaging 20 in Villanova's previous eight games. "I can't even explain the feeling right now. It's almost like somebody died. It's horrible."
Allen led Villanova with 19, and Howard Brown added 17.
With no starters bigger than 6-6 and the 5-5 Harrison at point guard, the Rebels were decidedly undersized against the Wildcats, whose smallest starter is the 6-3 Celestand. But Mississippi controlled the tempo almost from the start, confusing Villanova with its quick passes, defensive intensity and sharp shooting.
Harrison darted in and out of traffic, slipping away from defenders just when they thought they had a hand on the ball. The Rebels grabbed for any loose ball, swatting it away from the sluggish Wildcats. They shot 24-of-45 (53 percent) from the floor, while holding Villanova to 25-of-60 (42 percent).
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Carter and Harrison gave Mississippi a 54-45 lead with 9:25 left. But Villanova just kept chipping away, cutting the lead to seven and five repeatedly.
Celestand made a pair of free throws with 2:19 left to pare Mississippi's lead to 68-63. Hicks had a breakaway dunk, but Celestand answered with a jumper to set up the wild last two minutes.
"Before the season, our main goal was to win an NCAA game," Carter said. "Now that we have that off our backs, we can play a lot looser and maybe get some more. When that buzzer went off, it was a feeling of relief."
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