Tuesday , Mar , 27 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Nichols’ late heroics leads Mountaineers to NIT final

New York, NY (Sports Network) – Darris Nichols slipped to the right baseline,
received an inbounds pass, and buried a step-back three-pointer as time
expired, leading West Virginia into the NIT final with a 63-62 victory over
Mississippi State.

Nichols’ three capped a 14-point comeback for the Mountaineers (26-9), who
scored 20 points off 16 Bulldog turnovers. Nichols led the way with 17 points,
Frank Young added 16 points and seven rebounds, while Alex Ruoff tallied 10
points in the victory.

Dietric Slater led all scorers with 18 points and eight rebounds, Jamont
Gordon donated 11 points and eight assists and Charles Rhodes posted a double-
double with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Mississippi State (21-14), which
shot 41 percent from the floor but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.

The NIT achieved something the NCAA Tournament couldn’t quite muster — four
top seeds in the Final Four. Madison Square Garden was entertained by
Clemson’s victory in the nightcap over Air Force. The Tigers and Mountaineers
will play for the NIT championship on Thursday night.

Yet, entertainment was also a word to describe the first semifinal, a back-
and-forth contest down the stretch that came down to Nichols’ heroics.

A jumper by Rhodes followed by Gordon’s layup staked the Bulldogs to a 59-53
lead with 4:06 to play. It was still a far cry from earlier in the half, when
Slater’s three gave Mississippi State a 44-30 lead with just under 16 minutes

The Mountaineers kept pushing back, as Jamie Smalligan buried a three and
Ruoff converted a layup to make the score 59-58 with 2:41 to play.

Smalligan then drained 2-of-3 from the charity stripe to give West Virginia a
60-59 edge with 53 ticks remaining. Barry Stewart answered for the Bulldogs
with a jumper from the right elbow to put them back up 61-60 with 44.4 seconds
on the clock.

West Virginia had a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead on its next
possession, but Young missed a straight-on three then Smalligan and Da’Sean
Butler each missed from in close before Gordon collected the rebound and was

He made 1-of-2 from the line and the Mountaineers went to work without calling
a timeout. Nichols missed a contested three from the left baseline, but the
ball went out of bounds off a Bulldog with 2.1 seconds left.

Plenty of time for Nichols, who drained the game-winner after a timeout.

Mississippi State led 32-28 at the half.

Game Notes

Slater made 3-of-5 from beyond the arc…This was the first-ever meeting
between the schools…West Virginia collected 11 offensive rebounds…West
Virginia last made the NIT final during its 1942 championship season.