March 14, 2001
GAME: No. 14 Iona (22-10) vs.
Mississippi will try to shed its reputation as a team that doesn't win in the NCAA tournament when it plays Iona in the opening round in the Midwest Region.
The Rebels - 1-4 all-time in the tournament - face a team in the Gaels that has more appearances in the tournament (seven) than they do. Mississippi has played all of its NCAA tournament games in the Midwest Region.
The Rebels' No. 3 seed is their best ever, most likely a result of their win over Florida in the SEC semifinals. However, their lack of success in the NCAA tournament is foremost on their minds.
"Without a doubt, we want to go to the Final Four," senior point guard Jason Flanigan said. "That is our main goal. We have to believe in ourselves and our coaches. If we do that, we have a chance to reach that goal."
Mississippi has now earned a bid to four of the last five tournaments and faces an Iona team making its second straight appearance under coach Jeff Ruland, who is in his third season at his alma mater. The Gaels have not won a tournament game since 1980 when Iona beat Holy Cross with Ruland in uniform.
The key matchups will be in the paint and at the point. Under the basket, Mississippi's Rahim Lockhart and Iona's Nakiea Miller will square off. Lockhart stands at 6-foot-8, 255 pounds while Miller is listed at 6-10, 230. Lockhart leads the Rebels in scoring with an average of 12.8 points per game, and Miller tops the Gaels at 15 points.
Miller recorded career highs of 24 points and 15 rebounds in Iona's 74-67 win over Canisius in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference final. It was his 11th double-double of the season. He is second in the NCAA in field-goal shooting at 67.1 percent (155-for-231), and led the MAAC in blocks at 2.8 per game.
Lockhart underachieved in Mississippi's 77-55 loss to Kentucky in the SEC Championship, finishing with just seven points and five rebounds.
"You are talking about a great inside guy in Rahim Lockhart and a very athletic big man in Miller," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "They are both great under the basket. This should be a great match up. It's speed and quickness versus strength and size."
At point guard, Iona's Earl Johnson will face off with Mississippi's Flanigan and Jason Harrison.
Johnson is an excellent outside shooter, having connected on 49.5 percent (46-for-93) of his 3-pointers. Harrison leads the Rebels in 3s at 44 percent (38-for-44).
Since 1986, a No. 14 seed has beaten a No. 3 seed 12 times.
The Gaels lead the all-time series 1-0, earning a 2-0 forfeit win on Jan. 2, 1957, at a tournament in Owensboro, N.Y.
The winner takes on the winner of the matchup between No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 11 Xavier on Sunday at 4 p.m.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Iona - F Phil Grant (8.5 ppg, 3.6 ppg), F Greg Jenkins (8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), C Miller (15.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg), G Johnson (12.7 ppg, 4.0 apg), G Dyree Wilson (12.7 ppg, 2.0 apg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Iona - Automatic bid, Metro Atlantic Athletic
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Iona - 1-6, 7 years.
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