Mulkey, Schwartz lead Rice past Ole Miss for WNIT title

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Nancy Mulkey had 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks, Lauren Schwartz also scored 19 points and added five assists, and Rice beat Mississippi 71-58 on Sunday in the championship game of the WNIT.

Rice (23-4), which won the 2017 WBI, won its first WNIT title.

Mulkey, the back-to-back-to-back Conference USA defensive player of the year, made 9 of 11 from the field. Jasmine Smith added 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals for the Owls.

Donetta Johnson made a layup that gave Ole Miss (15-12) its first lead with 6:12 left in the first quarter but Schwartz answered with a layup on the other end just 18 seconds later and Rice led the rest of the way.

Shakira Austin, the only Rebels player to score in double figures, finished with 25 points on 10-of-25 shooting. The rest of the Ole Miss team combined to make 11 of 45 (24.4%) from the field.

Rice overcame its 24 turnovers by shooting 50% (25 of 50) from the field and making all its 17 free-throw attempts, including 10 in the fourth quarter.

After India Bellamy made two free throws to give the Owls a 58-44 lead with 7:21 to play, Ole Miss used a 10-0 run to trim its deficit to four points about three minutes later. Smith sandwiched two pairs of foul shots around two free throws by Katelyn Crosthwait to push Rice’s lead back into double figures with three minutes to go and the Rebels never again threatened.

The previous two WNIT champions, Arizona and Indiana, are in the Elite Eight of the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi State in NIT final after 84-62 win over Louisiana Tech

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FRISCO, Texas – D.J. Stewart Jr. got off to such a fast start that Mississippi State didn’t need another last-second shot to get to the NIT championship game.

Iverson Molinar scored 25 points and Stewart had 23, with the guards combining for nine 3-pointers, as Mississippi State led throughout to beat Louisiana Tech 84-62 on Saturday in a semifinal.

Two days after hitting the game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of the quarterfinal round to beat Richmond, Stewart made his first five shots, including all four of his made 3s in the game matching No. 4-seeded Bulldogs.

“That really gave us a lift, gave our guys a lot of confidence,” coach Ben Howland said.

Mississippi State (18-14) scored the game’s first 11 points. Molinar, who finished with five 3s, hit from long range on the Bulldogs’ first shot before Stewart had a run of 14 consecutive points for an early 17-5 lead.

“It kind of got us in a lead … the way the game was going, it gave us momentum,” Molinar said.

Big freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Louisiana Tech (23-8), which opened the NIT with a win over another Southeastern Conference team, No. 1 seed Ole Miss. Kalob Ledoux had 11 points and Jacolby Pemberton 10.

“We played a very good team in Mississippi State today, and that very good team played extremely well,” Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “We were playing from behind from the very beginning. I thought our team exerted a lot of effort to try to get back in.”

Derek Fountain added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting for Mississippi State, which plays Memphis on Sunday in its first NIT title game. Louisiana Tech was in its first NIT semifinal since 1986, and has never gotten further.

Stewart picked up where he left off after pushing Mississippi State over Richmond 68-67, when his game-winning 3 was the last of 16 lead changes in a game that also included eight ties.

Isaiah Crawford made a layup for Louisiana Tech to cut the gap to 41-31. Mississippi State responded with a 13-3 run when Stewart had a layup and Molinar scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3s that made it 54-34 with 13:48 to play. Molinar scored 20 of his points after halftime, after Stewart had 19 in the first half.

“I feel like it’s just whoever has the hot hand, and getting them the ball,” Molinar said. “Just the flow of the game, I kind of let the game come to me, I don’t feel like I forced stuff. … When I got it going, I got it going.”

BREAKING 70

Mississippi State became the first team to score at least 70 points against Louisiana Tech since Jan. 22. Tech had set a school record by holding 14 consecutive opponents under 70 points since an 82-74 loss at UTEP.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State takes on No. 1 seed Memphis on Sunday in the first NIT championship game played outside New York City. Louisiana Tech plays a consolation game against Colorado State, which lost 90-67 to the Tigers in the other semifinal Saturday.

Landers Nolley scores 27 points, Memphis makes 14 3s in win vs. Colorado State in NIT semis

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FRISCO, Texas — Memphis is playing for a championship in Penny Hardaway’s third season coaching his alma mater.

Landers Nolley II scored a career-high 27 points with seven of the Tigers’ season-high 14 made 3-pointers, and they advanced to their first NIT championship game since winning the title in 2002 with a 90-67 semifinal win over Colorado State on Saturday.

“I’m proud of the team. Our most complete game all year was today, even though we started off kind of slow, still scored 90 points,” Hardaway said. “For multiple guys to get hot on the same night, I’ve been asking for that all year and today’s game was one of those games.”

Memphis will hope for one more of those on Sunday, when it faces Mississippi State in the title game.

Nolley scored 24 of his points after halftime, after Lester Quinones made three 3s in a 22-2 run in the first half that put the Tigers (19-8) ahead to stay. DeAndre Williams finished with 21 points for Memphis, and Quinones had 18 with four 3s.

David Roddy had 18 points and Isaiah Stevens 17 for Colorado State (20-7).

Memphis’ last NCAA Tournament was 2013-14, and the Tigers just missed this year. They are 10-2 since the start of February with a pair one-possession losses six days apart against NCAA Sweet 16 team Houston. Their last four losses have been by a combined eight points.

Sixth-ranked Houston won 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, five days after hitting a last-second 3 at home to beat the Tigers 67-64 in the regular-season finale.

The Tigers were instead a No. 1 seed in the NIT, which was reduced from its usual 32 to 16 teams and is being played in North Texas because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the event’s cancellation last year. It is the first time the final NIT games are being played outside of New York City.

Hardaway says it takes a lot keep his team from getting distracted during a game, but that he doesn’t expect any lack of motivation Sunday.

“I don’t think so because it’s for the championship,” Hardaway said. “We’re playing good basketball. We know who we are.”

After Roddy started the second half with a 3 to get Colorado State within three points, Memphis responded with a 16-3 run that included seven points from Nolley.

Memphis’ big run before halftime came while the Rams missed 10 consecutive shots over a stretch of more than six minutes. After the 3s by Quinones, the Tigers led 37-23 on a jumper by Damion Baugh with 3:40 left. They shot 56% overall (34 of 61) and 52% on 3s (14 of 27).

“We let their shooters have too many rhythm 3s,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said.

The Rams led 21-15 on a jumper by Stevens midway through the first half, and his 3 in the final minute cut the halftime deficit to 44-38. But they had several shooting droughts, and were 39% overall (20 of 52) against the Memphis pressure defense.

“They are so unique in what they do,” Medved said. “It’s not anything we were not ready for, or surprised by. We just didn’t execute the way we needed to.”

STATE OF WINNING

The Tigers wore jerseys that read “Memphis State” that they got just before the AAC tourney. That was the name of the school when Hardaway was a standout player in the early 1990s – the school formally changed to University of Memphis in 1994.

“I’m very superstitious. So we’re winning with them, why are we going to get out of them? It’s no disrespect to the University of Memphis or anything. Still the same thing to me,” Hardaway said. “And we’re wearing those because we’re winning in them.”

UP NEXT

The NIT championship game, more than 1,500 miles from Madison Square Garden, with the Tigers facing the fourth-seeded Bulldogs on Sunday. Colorado State plays in the consolation game against Louisiana Tech, which lost 84-62 in the other semifinal game.