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Dayton downs Mississippi Rebels, 68-63 to advance to NIT Finals

Courtesy of Dayton Flyers Athletics

Dayton's Chris Johnson slams one on Ole Miss (UD photo)

Columbus Brookhaven graduate Chris Johnson scored 22 points, including five key free throws down the stretch, and the Flyers held off the Mississippi Rebels, 68-66 in the NIT semifinals Tuesday night.

This is the Flyers eighth appearance in the NIT championship game.  Dayton reached the finals five times in the 1950′s and won the tournament in 1962 under Tom Blackburn and 1968 under Don Donoher.

Marcus Johnson added 12 points for Dayton (24-12), who slowed down the Rebels high-scoring offense and advanced to the championship game for the first time since winning their second NIT in 1968. Mississippi was averaging 88 points per game but shot only 33.9 percent.  Dayton’s Chris Wright grabbed 12 rebounds.

The Flyers now have a chance to end a disappointing year on a high note. Picked to win the Atlantic 10 Conference in the preseason, the third-seeded Flyers will play Thursday night against the 2009 national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.

The key play of the game came at the 3:09 mark when Ole Miss was making a comeback and they were hurt by a technical foul on Reginald Buckner. He and Chris Johnson got tied up going for a loose ball, and Buckner threw a right forearm to Chris Johnson’s throat as they were untangled. Chris Wright quickly sepaarated the two players before Chris Johnson hit both free throws, pushing Dayton’s lead to 64-58 and they got the ball.

Chris Johnson, coach Brian Gregory and Chris Wright (UD photo)

Terrico White scored 19 points for the second-seeded Rebels of head coach Andy Kennedy, who were eliminated in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden for the second time in three years. Ole Miss was beaten by eventual champion Ohio State in 2008.

Mississippi’s Murphy Holloway had a chance to tie the game at 64 with 35.8 seconds left. But he missed the second of two free throws, and the Rebels never scored again.

The “Jacksonville Jet,” London Warren hit one of two free throws with 23.7 seconds remaining, extending Dayton’s lead to two. Trevor Gaskins drove through the lane for Ole Miss but came up short on a twisting layup, and the Flyers grabbed the rebound.

Chris Johnson’s two free throws made it 67-63 with 11.2 seconds to play. On the very next play London Warren knocked the ball out of Chris Warren’s hands and out of bounds. Chris Johnson then stole the inbounds pass, got fouled and hit one of two free throws for the final margin.

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