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March 8, 2002

ATLANTA (AP) — Rolando Howell banked in a short shot with 16.9 seconds remaining and South Carolina held on for a 69-67 upset of Mississippi in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday night.

Tony Kitchings scored 16 points and Carlos Powell added 14 to lead the Gamecocks (17-13), who stayed alive for an NCAA bid and strengthened their NIT credentials.

Mississippi (20-10), led by David Sanders with 26 points, probably did enough during the regular season to secure a spot in the NCAAs. Still, the Rebels set themselves up for a few nervous days while they await the selection committee announcement Sunday.

Sanders converted a three-point play with 37.5 seconds left, pulling Ole Miss into a 67-67 tie after the Rebels trailed much of the game.

At the other end, Howell shook loose from his defender, Justin Reed, and laid in the winning basket. The Rebels had time to set up for a good shot, but Aaron Harper’s 3-pointer for the victory rimmed out.

South Carolina had closed the regular season with three straight losses _ its longest losing streak of the season. The Gamecocks ended that slide and also avenged their worst defeat of the season.

In January, Ole Miss handed South Carolina a 71-53 beating at Oxford.

The Gamecocks will meet No. 12 Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday night. The Wildcats are the defending tournament champion.

South Carolina sliced through the usually stingy Rebels defense after halftime, making its first eight shots _ all from close range. Jamel Bradley’s basket cutting through the lane put the Gamecocks up 50-39 with 11:46 remaining, matching their biggest advantage.

Ole Miss clamped down, holding South Carolina to just two field goals the rest of the way. But the Gamecocks made 10 straight free throws to stay on top.

South Carolina put together a 10-0 run to grab the lead in the first half. Powell finished the run with a couple of free throws, starting his own streak in which he scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks.

Powell had 12 points by halftime, pushing South Carolina to a 32-28 lead. The margin would have been higher if not for Sanders, who beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer from just inside the halfcourt line.

South Carolina was coming off an 0-for-19 performance from 3-point range in their last game, a 64-57 loss to Mississippi State.

The Gamecocks missed their first seven 3s against Mississippi, finally breaking the slump when Chuck Eidson’s trey bounced off the rim and the backboard before dropping through.

South Carolina finished 2-of-12 from outside the arc, including a key basket by Bradley with 3:02 remaining.