Ole Miss Advances To SEC Final, Finishes Florida, 74-69

March 10, 2001

Box Score

By ELIZABETH A. DAVIS
AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Mississippi seniors Jason Flanigan and Rahim Lockhart didn't want a repeat of last season's last-place finish in the Southeastern Conference's western division.

With the addition of freshmen Justin Reed and Aaron Harper, this year's been different.

Reed scored 15 points and Flanigan made three free throws down the stretch Saturday to help No. 14 Mississippi upset fifth-ranked Florida 74-69 in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.

The Rebels (25-6) will meet either No. 15 Kentucky or Arkansas in the championship game on Sunday afternoon.

This time last year, Ole Miss was already out of the tournament and headed toward the NIT.

Ole Miss, which ousted Tennessee 86-73 in the second round, has won nine straight games and reached the finals for the fifth time but the first since 1990, when it lost to Kentucky 70-51.

"Last year was a sick feeling coming in last place," Flanigan said. "Over the summer we worked hard and we knew we had to lead these young guys. We knew they were going to work hard and listen to us."

"We have just been blessed all season long."

Florida (23-6), which got to the Final Four last season, was hoping its battle with injuries could be conquered with another win to help lock up a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

"I don't know enough to say where we'll be seeded," Gators' coach Billy Donovan said. "If we get an invitation, I'll be very, very pleased and happy."

The Gators made a win tough. The Rebels were able to hold on after Flanigan gave Ole Miss a 66-65 lead with 3:38 to go with one free throw.

Ole Miss had gone ahead by seven with 7:55 left, but Florida rallied again with an 8-1 run capped by Udonis Haslem's basket that tied it at 65 with 4:25 to go. Flanigan then made one free throw and Lockhart scored to put Ole Miss back ahead 68-65 with 2:49 left.

 

 

Flanigan made just one free throw and Lockhart fouled out with 35.8 seconds left when he ran into Florida's Brett Nelson along the perimeter.

Nelson sank both free throws to cut it to 70-69, but Ole Miss managed to get the ball downcourt against Florida's press without a foul.

Jason Holmes passed to Reed under the basket for an easy layup with 19.9 seconds left that pushed the lead back to three.

Nelson missed a driving layup on the ensuing possession, and Flanigan was fouled at the other end and made both free throws to seal the win.

"It's one of the toughest games I've had the opportunity to coach," Rebels' coach Rod Barnes said. "We kept hanging in there and that's what we've done all season long."

Second-seeded Florida, which had won eight straight and held off Alabama 69-61 the night before, just couldn't pull out a win.

"That's the thing that was so disappointing to me. I sat up here yesterday and talked in great detail about the character (of the team) and the things they overcame to beat Alabama last night," Donovan said.

Holmes scored 13 and Lockhart and Harper had 11 each for the top-seeded Rebels.

Flanigan finished 6-of-8 from the foul line and had eight points.

Haslem scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and Nelson added 13, Matt Bonner 11 and Teddy Dupay 10 for the second-seeded Gators, who had won eight straight to take a share of the regular season SEC title. Florida has not reached the finals since 1994.

Trailing 40-34 at halftime, the Gators tied it at 40 after Bonner and Dupay each hit 3s to open the second half.

Neither team led by more than four afterward until Ole Miss had a 13-2 run to erase a four-point deficit and go ahead 64-57 with 7:55 remaining.

Brent Wright, a key reserve for Florida, missed a second tournament game to rehabilitate his right foot. Donovan plans to announce Wright's status on Monday.

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