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Jamarius Burton Plays Hero as Pitt Beats Mississippi State in First-Four Thriller, 60-59



DAYTON, Ohio — It was the final round of a 40-minute fight.

Pitt and Mississippi State had been locked in an air-tight battle in the First Four on Tuesday night, and with less than ten seconds to go, the Panthers had the ball in the hands of their leader: Jamarius Burton.

One Panther was going to take the shot, and every Pitt fan in attendance knew who.

Burton delivered.

The graduate senior hit his signature mid-range jumper, giving Pitt back the lead, 60-59, with 10 seconds left. On the next Mississippi State possession, Pitt’s Guillermo Diaz-Graham swatted away a Tolu Smith attempt at the rim with three seconds to go in triumphant fashion. After one last stop in the final three, Pitt won the battle, 60-59.

Pitt had advanced to the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 on the heels of the biggest shot of Burton’s career and the biggest block of Diaz-Graham’s.

From the start, this one was a back-and-forth battle in which neither team could pull away.

Mississippi State — who entered the game as the worst three-point shooting team in the country — came out of the gates on fire, hitting four of its first five three-point attempts while the Panthers focused their defensive efforts on the big man Smith.

Pitt absorbed the Bulldogs’ early punches and answered with a hot stretch of its own, going on a 10-0 run while Mississippi State missed eight straight field goals. Throughout the rest of the half, the two teams battled as six players scored for each team in the frame.

Nelly Cummings led Pitt with nine points in the first, followed by Greg Elliott with eight and Nike Sibande with six. Despite Mississippi State’s early hot streak, the Panthers shot the better percentage from deep in the first, hitting eight of their 13 tries while Mississippi State hit just one of its last ten three-point attempts.

Inside, the Bulldogs continued to bully Pitt on the glass as expected. The Panthers — without big man Federiko Federiko (knee) — lost the board battle 27-13 in the first half. DJ Jeffries grabbed eight early rebounds for the Bulldogs, while the team’s leading rebounder on the year Smith grabbed six. At the half, Pitt led 35-34.

While Pitt looked to Cummings and Sibande for offensive production in the neck-and-neck battle, Burton rode the bench — adding his second foul early in the first half and picking up his third early in the latter half.

Burton checked back in with just over 13 minutes to go in the second, but less than one minute later., picked up his fourth. The Bulldogs had neutralized Burton, and the Panthers Smith.

Pitt regained the lead in the back-and-forth affair on a transition layup by Sibande with seven-and-a-half to go. Mississippi State, however, countered right back with yet another good jumper off the hands of Shakeel Moore.

For the Panthers, Nelly Cummings finished as the team’s leading scorer with 15, while Greg Elliott added 13 and Blake Hinson added 12 points.

With the win, No. 11 Pitt improves to 23-11 on the year and advances to play Iowa State in the Round of 64 in Greensboro on Friday, March 17 at 3 p.m. on Tru TV.

The Panthers have not won a first round game in the NCAA Tournament since the 2013-14 season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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