NEW YORK (AP) — It is one of the oldest adages in sports: Good players win games. Just ask Mississippi coach Kermit Davis.
Breein Tyree scored 18 points to lead Ole Miss to a 74-72 come-from-behind victory over Penn State in the first game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night.
Blake Hinson added 17 for the Rebels, who improved to 5-1. Bryce Williams finished with 15 points and KJ Buffen had 13.
“I told the team, ‘That was a players’ win,’ Davis said. “We just kept making plays after plays and drove the ball. That was one of the best wins I’ve been a part of in 38 years of coaching.”
Lamar Stevens scored 22 points for the Nittany Lions (5-1). Mike Watkins contributed 18 points and 12 rebounds. Myreon Jones added 12 points.
Whereas Davis was positively gushing about his players, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers publicly questioned his.
“We just don’t have that mental toughness to keep competing at a high level.” Chambers said while pounding the table after the game to emphasize his point. “To be able to finish games. To be able to win.”
Ole Miss trailed by 21 early in the second half, only to tie the game 70-all on Tyree’s layup and free throw with 1:06 left.
Penn State regained the lead 72-70 on a Stevens layup, but Tyree drilled a jumper and Williams’ two free throws gave Ole Miss their first — and only — lead.
Penn State jumped out to a 20-6 lead in the first 7:27, led by 16 with 3:38 remaining and built a 43-27 halftime advantage. The Nittany Lions forced 14 turnovers in the first half, and 20 of their 43 points were scored in the paint.
Jones’ dunk at the 6:13 mark stretched Penn State’s lead to 54-35.
Following a timeout, Ole Miss ripped a 15-3 run in a span of 4:18 to pull to 57-50, but a Stevens left-side 3 as the shot clock expired pushed Penn State’s lead back to 10. It grew to 66-52 before Ole Miss went on an 11-0 run over a span of 2:21 to cut the deficit to 66-63.
Whereas Ole Miss continued to make shots, Penn State went cold. Following a Watkins’ jumper with 7:21 left, the Nittany Lions only scored six points— all from the free-throw line.
“I think they started making shots and their effort was much better in the second half as opposed to the first half,” Chambers said. “I thought we got good shots. We didn’t make (them). And then we started turning the ball over.”
Penn State finished with 16 turnovers, eight in each half.
Mississippi: Credit the Rebels for their resilience and shooting in the second half. The Rebels made 16 of 37 from the field after halftime, including 6 of 11 from 3, and made all nine of their free-throw attempts.
Penn State: It was the first loss of the season for the Nittany Lions, who finished last season’s Big Ten Conference schedule with a 7-3 record that included wins over ranked Michigan and Maryland.
Ole Miss: Advances to the championship game on Friday to face Oklahoma State.
Penn State: Plays Syracuse in the third-place game on Friday.