Ole Miss Storms Back in Second Half, Shocks Penn State at Barclays Center
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was a tale of two halves at Barclays Center, as Ole Miss drained six second-half 3-pointers to overcome a 21-point deficit and defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions 74-72 Wednesday night.
The opening battle of the NIT Season Tip-Off was characterized by a slow start offensively for both sides early on, but it was clear after tip-off that the Rebels had no answer for Penn State senior forward Mike Watkins on either end.
In a sequence that summed up the majority of the first half, Watkins threw down a ferocious dunk off a lob from sophomore guard Myreon Jones. On the very next play, Watkins came up with a steal and went coast to coast for another one of his six first half dunks.
A 3-pointer from Jones at the top of the key capped off a 15-4 run to start the game for the Nittany Lions.
Despite star forward Lamar Stevens dealing with foul trouble for much of the first half, the Nittany Lions forced a total of 14 turnovers and continued to convert on easy looks in transition.
For Ole Miss and head coach Kermit Davis, however, nothing seemed to go right in the first half.
To his own surprise, Davis found himself using all but one of the team’s timeouts in the first 20 minutes of play. Dynamic guards Devontae Shuler and Breein Tyree were also held without a point in what was a long first half for the Rebels.
Watkins continued to dominate the game on both ends, as he altered countless shot attempts and ran the floor well. The senior finished the game with 18 points, 12 rebounds, eight blocks and four steals.
After another perimeter shot fell off the mark for Shuler, Penn State took a comfortable 16-point lead into the second half, which eventually epitomized what makes college basketball special.
Ten minutes into the second half, the Rebels caught fire from behind the arc, nailing three straight 3-pointers and trimming the deficit to seven.
The Nittany Lions temporarily weathered the storm, though, as Stevens countered with a 3-pointer from NBA range as the shot clock was winding down.
But the Rebels, alongside a rejuvenated crowd, kept fighting. Ole Miss went on an 11-0 run in three minutes, and the game was suddenly tied.
With under a minute remaining, Stevens stepped through into the lane and finished at the rim to take a two-point lead. However, Tyree immediately responded on the other end, knocking down a stepback mid-range jumper to knot it up again.
With the shot clock turned off, Penn State was looking to hold for one shot with 20 seconds remaining, but a careless inbound pass from sophomore Izaiah Brockington was intercepted and led to a pair of game-winning free throws for Ole Miss junior guard Bryce Williams.
“I should have never put [Brockington] in that position. That’s on me,” head coach Patrick Chambers said. “In those late-game situations, you usually want a more experienced junior or senior inbounding.”
On a day where Ole Miss starting forward Luis Rodriguez broke his foot at the team’s morning shootaround, the Rebels overcame a 20-point deficit and outscored the Nittany Lions 43-20 to end the game.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Davis said. “It was a game of runs. Bryce [Williams] and Breein [Tyree] were terrific. I can’t say enough about them.”
Both teams will be back at the Barclays Center on Friday night. Penn State will Syracuse, whereas Ole Miss will take on Oklahoma State for the tournament championship.
“We need to toughen up mentally,” Chambers said. “We just don’t have the mental toughness to keep big leads right now.”
Pasquale Tartaro is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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