It was a comeback that will be remembered for quite some time, showing that the Ole Miss men’s basketball team won’t give up until the clock hits zero. Trailing by 21 in the second half, the Rebels rallied to knock off unbeaten Penn State 74-72 Wednesday evening in the NIT Tip-Off semifinals. Junior guard Bryce Williams had ice in his veins, making two free throws with 13 seconds left, and the Rebels (5-1) came up with one more big defensive stop to complete the come-from-behind victory.
A steal in the backcourt by sophomore KJ Buffen led to a Williams offensive rebound and foul by Penn State (5-1). Prior to that, senior Breein Tyree scored five points to tie the contest on two occasions with less than 66 seconds to go. After going scoreless in the first half, Tyree exploded for 18 second half points to lead Ole Miss in scoring. Blake Hinson added 17 points, sparking the comeback alongside Williams. Buffen stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points to go along with career highs in rebounds (9), assists (6) and steals (4). Khadim Sy added eight points and a career-high eight rebounds. On the defensive side of the floor, Ole Miss kept up as one of the nation’s best teams in defending the 3-pointer as Penn State finished 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) from long distance. Outscoring PSU 47-29 in the second half, the Rebels held the opposition to a 35.7 field goal percentage (10 of 28) over the final 20 minutes.
Penn State was led in scoring by Lamar Stevens with 22 points, while Mike Watkins put together a double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds). Myreon Jones had 12 points but was held to just two points in the second half. T
urnovers and cold shooting by the Rebels allowed Penn State to grab early momentum. Behind the duo of Jones and Watkins, 24 first half points between the two of them, the Nittany Lions grew their lead to as much as 20 points. However, Ole Miss forced back-to-back turnovers to end the half and cut into the margin, 43-27. Sophomores Hinson (9) and Buffen (7) combined for 16 of the team’s points in the opening 20 minutes.
Penn State grew its advantage to 21 and held a 19-point lead with 12 minutes to go before the Rebels caught fire from beyond the arc. Williams and Hinson knocked down four 3-pointers, alternating with two apiece, to create a 12-0 run and get Ole Miss within seven, 57-50, with 9:17 remaining.
Despite the Nittany Lions countering with seven straight points to double their lead back to 14, Ole Miss fought back again. After an offensive rebound led to a pair of Hinson free throws, Tyree made consecutive buckets. Another Williams 3-pointer, his third of the game, made it a five-point game with 4:08 left and forced PSU to call another timeout. Williams knocked down a pair of free throws before Tyree grabbed a defensive rebound and raced to the other end of the floor for a deuce and the foul, converting the old-fashioned three-point play to tie the game at 70-70. A second-chance bucket from Stevens with 38 seconds to go gave the lead back to Penn State, but Tyree answered right back to square the contest once again.
Following a Penn State timeout, Buffen extended his 6-foot-7 frame to come up with a steal in the backcourt and power to the hole. Despite the contested miss, Williams was there to go after the rebound and draw a foul. As he was all night long, the junior college transfer was cool under pressure and drained both free throws to flip the game in Ole Miss’ favor. Closing out and contesting a corner three, the Rebels saw the PSU go-ahead shot airball long. The ball went out-of-bounds and stayed with Penn State, but the in-bounds pass was deflected away as time ran out. The incredible comeback was complete, and the Rebels found themselves advancing to the NIT Tip-Off championship game.