Memphis wins NIT title with 77-64 win over Mississippi State

National Sports
Boogie Ellis, Derek Fountain, Cameron Matthews, Abdul Ado, D.J. Stewart Jr.

Memphis guard Boogie Ellis (5) makes a pass as Mississippi State forward Derek Fountain (20), Cameron Matthews (4), Abdul Ado, bottom front, and D.J. Stewart Jr. (3) defend in the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game in the NIT, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Boogie Ellis scored 23 points and Memphis never trailed after a fast start to beat Mississippi State 77-64 in the NIT championship game Sunday, giving the Tigers a title in Penny Hardaway’s third season coaching his alma mater.

After just missing out on their first NCAA Tournament since 2013-14, the Tigers went into the NIT as a No. 1 seed and won college basketball’s oldest postseason tournament for the second time. They also were NIT champs in 2002.

Landers Nolley II opened the second half with a jumper and a 3-pointer that put Memphis (20-8) ahead to stay. Nolley is one of three sophomore starters for the Tigers, who also had a freshman and junior among the starting five.

Memphis won 11 of its last 13 games, the only losses a pair of one-possession setbacks six days apart against NCAA Elite Eight team Houston. The Tigers have their fourth consecutive 20-win seasons, including all three since Hardaway became their coach.

The Tigers led 13-0 in less than 7 1/2 minutes before missing 11 shots in a row and 21 of 26 before halftime. Mississippi State (18-15) tied the game at 33-all when Andersson Garcia had a steal on a bad pass at midcourt and drove for a layup to beat the halftime buzzer.

Memphis shot 66.7% after halftime (16 of 24) and struck first with Nolley’s baskets. The Tigers made 6 of 8 3s after the break, with Ellis hitting consecutive long-range shots early on.

D.J. Jeffries had 15 points for the Tigers, while DeAndre Williams had 12 points. Lester Quinones had eight points and 16 rebounds.

Cameron Matthews scored 19 to pace Mississippi State, and Deivon Smith had 17. Abdul Ado had eight points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulldogs missed their first 10 shots in the game before Smith’s 3-pointer with 12:42 left in the first half made it 13-3. Garcia’s half-ending play was part of a 10-2 run in the final two minutes that Matthews started with a 3-pointer before adding a layup and a free throw.

After the first-ever NIT cancellation last year because of COVID-19, this year’s tournament was reduced from 32 to 16 teams and played entirely in North Texas, more than 1,500 miles from its usual home of New York City. The semifinals and championship game were played outside of Madison Square Garden for the first time in the 83-year history of the event.

STYMIED STEWART

After being the first Mississippi State player ever with three consecutive 20-point poststeason games, D.J. Stewart Jr. was held to four points on 1-of-10 shooting in the final game. Quinones did a tremendous job defensively against Stewart, who missed all five of his 3-pointers. Stewart had scored 23 points in the semifinal win over Louisiana Tech after games of 20 and 22 points in the NIT.

Iverson Molinar, who had 25 points in the semifinal for Mississippi State, finished with six against Memphis.

CLOSE CALLS

The last four Memphis losses were by a combined eight points. Sixth-ranked Houston hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at home to beat the Tigers 67-64 in the regular-season finale, before winning 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.

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