March 13, 2003
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS – Justin Reed scored 22 points and Mississippi held off South Carolina 62-56 in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday.
Ole Miss (14-14) never trailed, turning away the Gamecocks time and again in a game befitting two of the worst offensive teams in the SEC.
Reed made a couple of key free throws with 1:40 remaining, which was only appropriate. Ole Miss had three less field goals than South Carolina but made 18-of-20 at the foul line. The Gamecocks were 4-of-6.
The season is over for South Carolina (12-16), which had only one possible way to make the postseason – win the conference tournament and claim the automatic NCAA bid.
A year ago, the Gamecocks made an improbable run to the semifinals in Atlanta. They couldn’t get past opening day this time.
South Carolina, which played in the NIT the last two years, hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Ole Miss kept alive its faint postseason hopes. The Rebels still need to beat rival Mississippi State, the SEC West champion, in the quarterfinals Friday to assure a .500 season – the minimum standard for getting in the NIT.
South Carolina had two chances to tie the game in the final two minutes.
After Chris Warren hit a 3-pointer to pull the Gamecocks within 53-51, Carlos Powell stole the ball from Justin Reed during a scramble near midcourt.
Powell missed an off-balance jumper at the side of the lane, and Reed made two free throws at the other end to give Ole Miss a four-point cushion. Reed was 8-of-8 at the line.
Mike Boynton sank a 3 to make it 55-54, but David Sanders countered for Ole Miss by bursting through the lane for a layin with 46 seconds left.
Instead of going for the tying 3, South Carolina opted for a two-pointer. Senior Chuck Eidson, playing his final game for the Gamecocks, missed a jumper and Rolando Howell couldn’t control the rebound. Emmanuel Wade was fouled, making both free throws with 25 seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
The tone of the game mirrored the teams’ regular-season meeting at Columbia. South Carolina won in ugly fashion, 55-49.
This one wasn’t much prettier. Ole Miss was 19-of-46 (41 percent) from the field; the Gamecocks 22-of-52 (42 percent).
Ole Miss ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring at 66.9 points per game, just ahead of South Carolina’s 66. Except for Reed and Warren, there was little offensive production. Only four other players were in double figures, none of them scoring more than 11 points.
Warren, in fact, had the first nine points for South Carolina.
The Rebels avenged a loss in last year’s conference tournament. South Carolina began its run to the semis with a 69-67 upset of Ole Miss.