DENTON, Texas – D.J. Stewart Jr. buried the game-winning three-pointer just left of the top of the key in the closing seconds to catapult the Mississippi State men’s basketball team to a hard-fought 68-67 victory over Richmond during Thursday’s NIT Quarterfinals at the UNT Coliseum on the University of North Texas campus.
The Bulldogs (17-14) advance to face Louisiana Tech (23-7), a 72-65 winner over Western Kentucky, in Saturday’s NIT Semifinal round. Tip time is set for 2 p.m. CT from the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas. The game will be televised by ESPN and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.
State has won six of its last nine games this season and punched its second NIT Final Four trip under Ben Howland. The Bulldogs have made the NIT Final Four in three of its last four tournament appearances.
The back-and-forth affair featured six of its eight ties and 11 of its 16 lead changes in a seesaw second half.
Stewart Jr. delivered 17 of his game-leading 22 points and canned all 10 of his free throws attempts during the second half. The 22 points for Stewart Jr. matched the fourth-most, and the 10 made foul shots are the most by a MSU player during a NIT game. It also marked Stewart Jr.’s eighth game of 20-plus points on the season. The Grace, Mississippi native handed out five assists and added a pair of steals.
After securing another 20-point performance against Saint Louis during the NIT Round of 16, Stewart Jr. became the second player in program history to amass back-to-back 20-plus point performances during consecutive postseason games. Darryl Wilson secured 32 and 22 points, respectively, versus No. 19 Utah and No. 1 UCLA during the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
Stewart Jr.’s go-ahead triple was State’s second in as many NIT trips. Quinndary Weatherspoon also had a game-clinching trey during the final seconds of a 78-77 triumph over Baylor on 03/18/2018. The 22 points enabled Stewart Jr. to become the seventh sophomore in program history to surpass over 500 points on the season.
Iverson Molinar notched 16 of his 18 points during the first 20 minutes. He was an efficient 7-of-10 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. The sophomore has posted double figures in seven consecutive games and in 25 of his 28 appearances for the season.
Abdul Ado worked his way to eight points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks followed by Quinten Post’s six points off the bench. Javian Davis made his first start of the season filling in for the SEC’s leading rebounder, Tolu Smith. He tacked on five points and seven rebounds.
State’s freshmen trio of Deivon Smith, Derek Fountain and Cameron Matthews added a combined nine points for the Bulldogs. Fountain and Smith tacked on four rebounds each, while Matthews added a pair. Smith delivered four assists against two turnovers.
Mississippi State hit on 23-of-46 from the field (50.0 percent), dialed up a 6-for-17 clip from three-point territory (35.3 percent) and sank 16-of-18 from the foul line (88.9 percent). It marked the 10th time that the Maroon and White has shot 50 percent or better this season.
The Bulldogs controlled the battle of the boards with a 39-23 advantage, the 11th time in 2020-21 where State has outrebounded its opponent by 10-plus rebounds.
Richmond connected for a 22-of-53 shooting performance (41.5 percent), 9-of-23 on its three-pointers (39.1) and 14-of-23 at the charity stripe (60.9 percent).
Jacob Gilyard provided 22 points fueled by five three-pointers in the contest to spark the Spiders. He also dished out six assists and swiped four steals. Matt Grace also pitched in 16 points, courtesy of a 6-of-7 shooting clip for Richmond.
FROM THE BENCH WITH COACH HOWLAND
“It [D.J. Stewart Jr.’s game-winning shot] reminds me of being in Texas three years ago when Q [Quinndary] Weatherspoon hit a similar type play; a jump shot against Baylor at the buzzer to win the game on the road. This is a great win for us. Iverson [Molinar] and D.J. were really good scoring the ball again. I thought that Javian Davis gave us good minutes today. Deivon [Smith] comes in, and he’s always a stabilizing force. He had four assists, two turnovers – a two-to-one ratio. Everybody contributed. I’m really pleased for our guys. This gives us a day off now to rest and then also prepare for whoever wins that 9 p.m. game tonight between Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech, which should be a great game.”
“Give them [Richmond] credit. [Jacob] Gilyard is an unbelievable player. He had four steals tonight. The guy is top 5 in the history of college basketball [in steals]. He’s an incredible player. I thought their big guy inside, [Matt] Grace did a really good job. Abdul [Ado], for the most part, was matching up against [Nathan] Cayo, who was the second leading scorer in their conference games at 14.2 per game. He had one basket on ten attempts tonight. That was a huge difference to our advantage. I thought we did a pretty good job on [Tyler] Burton today. He had been their leading scorer the last two games … Today, he was 1-for-7. We did a good job on two of their key guys defensively. Our field goal percentage defense was very good again. Our foul shooting and shooting from the field [were good], we just have to somehow figure out how to take care of the basketball.“
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – D.J. STEWART JR.
“I was trying to find the ball whenever I looked back and saw the ball was in the air from QP [Quinten Post]. I was either going to lay the ball up or just go for the win. I chose to go for the win, and it went in. I think everybody stepped up together. Everybody knew that they had a bigger role tonight with Tolu [Smith] being out. Much respect to the guys that stepped up tonight.“
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Facing a 63-59 deficit at the 3:40 mark, the Bulldogs finished the game with nine of the last 13 points down the stretch. D.J. Stewart Jr. connected with Abdul Ado for a dunk. Then, Stewart Jr. drove late shot clock for a finger roll. He added a pair of free throws to knot the score at 65-65 with 50 seconds left.
Richmond regained a two-point edge courtesy of a Jacob Gilyard runner on the right elbow 11 seconds later. Mississippi State had an opportunity to draw even on the next possession, but Abdul Ado misfired on a pair of free throws.
The Spiders had a chance to extend their lead, but Andre Gustavson missed the front end of one-and-one. That set the stage for Stewart Jr., who took three dribbles in stride after a solid outlet pass from Quinten Post. He swished the go-ahead trifecta with two seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Cameron Matthews deflected the ensuing inbounds pass at halfcourt as time expired to seal the one-point victory.
Richmond’s first three baskets were via the three-pointer to garner a 9-4 edge during the opening 3:49 of the contest.
The largest lead for the Spiders was seven on two occasions, the latest at 27-20, at the 5:18 mark. The Maroon and White closed the stanza with 14 of the last 21 points.
Post ignited the charge with a traditional three-point play. Molinar drove the baseline and rocked the rim with a highlight-reel dunk.
Deivon Smith tacked on a layup. Molinar added a pair of free throws and rattled home a trifecta at the top of the key. Stewart Jr. hit a runner in the closing seconds to tie the score at 34-34 heading into the locker room.
The Bulldogs kept the momentum and scored the first five points during the first 50 seconds of the second half. Javian Davis canned a left wing three-pointer courtesy of Molinar. Stewart Jr. added two free throws to make it 39-34 with 19:10 to go.
Richmond used seven consecutive points to turn a 44-39 deficit into a 46-44 with 14:12 on the clock. Post responded with a hook shot on a traditional three-point play.
The two teams would play within one possession before Richmond would go up by four points leading into the last media timeout.
The Bulldogs advance to face Louisiana Tech in Saturday’s NIT Semifinal round. Tip time is set for 2 p.m. CT from the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas. The game will be televised by ESPN and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.
Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS