By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW YORK – Madison Square Garden has seen its share of big shots through the years, but it didn’t see one from Ole Miss Tuesday night.
At least not the one the Rebels had to have.
Playing from behind most of the evening, Ole Miss had a chance to tie with 11.7 seconds left, but Trevor Gaskins’ layup – a clean look from straight on – did not go down.
The Rebels did go down, losing 68-63 to Dayton in the NIT semifinals, their second loss in two attempts to reach the championship game. Ole Miss ends its season at 24-11.
“It was a real clean look. I just missed it,” said Gaskins, who had seven points on 3-for-9 shooting for the night.
The Rebels put the ball in play with 23.7 seconds left, but Chris Warren, closely guarded, was forced to give it up. Gaskins slipped by his man, but Dayton’s London Warren recovered and contested the shot.
“It comes down to making layups and free throws,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “The layups, you’re not by yourself, and the free throws have some pressure, but if you don’t make them you’re not going to advance in a tournament like this.”
Murphy Holloway could have tied the game with 35.8 seconds left but missed the second of two free throws.
Dayton coach Brian Gregory said Warren’s recovery made Gaskins’ shot much more difficult.
“That kid is a lefty, and he was driving with his strong hand. London was able to get just enough to arc him out and force him into a difficult angle.”
That wasn’t the only time Ole Miss faced difficult angles on the offensive end.
Terrico White had 19 points, and Warren added 15, but the shooting percentages weren’t there. Dayton, second in the Atlantic 10 in field-goal defense at 39.3, held the Rebels to 33.9 percent shooting.
White and Warren were a combined 11-for-31 from the floor, 6-for-17 from the 3-point line.
Warren picked up two early fouls and played only nine minutes in the first half. He picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half.
“That was a big hit. Chris is our engine,” Kennedy said. “When he picked up his third one I thought it made him tentative, and he settled for jump shots.”
Dayton also hit just 33.9 percent from the field, but the Flyers compensated with a 45-38 edge on the glass, and sophomore guard Chris Johnson doubled his scoring average with a game-high 22 points. He was an efficient 3-for-7 from 3-point range, 9-for-11 from the free-throw line and added nine rebounds.
The Rebels trailed 34-30 at halftime and by nine points twice in the second half, the second time with 8 minutes, 12 seconds remaining when when Johnson knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner as the Flyers (24-12) answered an Ole Miss surge that had the game at 51-50. Johnson also had a steal and two free throws in that run.
A missed free throw with 23.7 seconds remaining left the door open for Gaskins to tie. When he didn’t, Dayton didn’t miss again, as Johnson hit twice with 11.2 to play.
“Our defense bailed us out. Warren and White go 4-for-17 from 3, that’s pretty good,” Gregory said. “Hey, I’ve been on the other side often enough when the guy makes that shot (at the end). They executed what they wanted. He got a good look. He just missed it.”