Sebastian Saiz scored a career-high 26 points and added 12 rebounds, and Ole Miss advanced to the Paradise Jam championship game with a 81-68 win.
Deandre Burnett added 20 points, and Cullen Neal and Rasheed Brooks had 11 each for the Rebels (4-0), who pushed a 41-37 halftime lead to as many as 16 points in the second half.
“We were giving up a lot of free opportunities in the last game (a 95-88 overtime win over Oral Roberts on Friday),” Saiz said. “We used the mentality of ‘nothing free tonight.’ I knew they were going to try to double-team me, but I was ready for it. I knew they weren’t going to be able to stop me.”
Shavar Newkirk scored 21 points, Charlie Brown had 13 and Lamarr Kimble 10 for the Hawks (3-1), who led twice in the first half, the last at 28-24 on Chris Clover’s 3-pointer with 8:56 left.
But Ole Miss responded with a 15-5 run over the next five minutes, with Brown’s 3-pointer with 3:54 remaining giving the Rebels a 39-33 lead, their biggest of the half.
Ole Miss’ biggest lead came in the final six minutes, with Justa Furmanavicius tipping in a missed Burnett layup for a 73-57 margin with 5:26 left.
Mississippi State 61, UTEP 54: Mississippi State coach Ben Howland knew what was coming. Yet, it still left him shaking his head.
“Can you believe he ran a triangle and two on November 20?” smiled Howland at his longtime friend and one-time LA rival, UTEP coach Tim Floyd.
Howland, UCLA’s coach from 2003-2013, squared off against Floyd’s USC teams from 2006 through 2009 with the Bruins winning seven of the 10 matchups.
This time, Howland left a winner, too, as Aric Holman scored 18 points and Lamar Peters had 13 points, including a critical four-point play that snapped the Bulldogs from a shooting funk, in a 61-54 victory over the Miners. Mississippi State left with two straight wins and fifth place at the Charleston Classic.
“I’m just excited about our team never quits, never gives up,” Howland said.
The Bulldogs (3-1) trailed 15-4 early and 43-35 in the second half as they started 1 of 10 from the field. That’s when Peters struck for a 3-pointer and got fouled, which seemingly woke up Mississippi State.
“Coach always tells me to look for my opportunities,” Peters said. “I just wanted to do whatever it took to help the team.”
The 6-foot-10 Holman did, too. His last basket was a thunderous jam with 5:22 to go that broke a 49-all tie. Mississippi State did not trail again.
“At the end of the day, the main thing was just to keep my team going,” Holman said. “Get defensive stops because our defense leads to our offense.”