By Mike Fitzpatrick/The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Chris Johnson scored 22 points, including five key free throws down the stretch, and Dayton held off Ole Miss 68-63 in the NIT semifinals Tuesday night.
Marcus Johnson added 12 points for the Flyers (24-12), who slowed Ole Miss’ high-scoring offense and advanced to the championship game for the first time since winning their second NIT title in 1968.
Next up, Dayton has a chance to end a disappointing year on a high note.
Picked to win the Atlantic 10 Conference before the season, the third-seeded Flyers will play Thursday night against the winner of Tuesday night’s second semifinal between Rhode Island and 2009 national champion North Carolina. A victory by Rhode Island would make it an all-Atlantic 10 final.
Terrico White had 19 points for the second-seeded Rebels (24-11), eliminated in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden for the second time in three years. Ole Miss was beaten by eventual champion Ohio State in 2008.
With New York Giants quarterback and former Ole Miss star Eli Manning sitting in the second row, near the Rebels’ bench, Mississippi’s Murphy Holloway had a chance to tie it at 64 with 35.8 seconds left. But he missed the second of two free throws, and the Rebels never scored again.
London Warren hit one of two free throws with 23.7 seconds remaining, extending Dayton’s lead to two. Trevor Gaskins drove through the lane for Ole Miss but came up short on a twisting layup, and the Flyers grabbed the rebound.
Chris Johnson’s two free throws made it 67-63 with 11.2 seconds to play. On the other end, London Warren knocked the ball out of Chris Warren’s hands and out of bounds. Chris Johnson then stole the inbounds pass, got fouled and hit one of two free throws for the final margin.
Chris Wright, Dayton’s leading scorer and rebounder, was held to nine points on 1-of-9 shooting. He pulled down 12 rebounds, though.
Chris Warren had 15 points and Holloway 12 for the Rebels, who averaged 88 points in their first three NIT games. They shot only 33.9 percent in this one, including 6 of 23 (26.1 percent) from 3-point range.
Ole Miss also was hurt by a technical foul on Reginald Buckner with 3:09 left. He and Chris Johnson got tied up going for a loose ball, and Buckner threw a right forearm to Chris Johnson’s throat as they finally untangled.
Wright separated the players before Chris Johnson hit both free throws, pushing Dayton’s lead to 64-58.
Holloway then scored on a jump hook, and Chris Warren hit a pair of free throws to get the Rebels within two with 1:04 to go.
Read more in Wednesday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.