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Jamarius Burton's Late Jumper Lifts Pitt Over MSU in NCAA Tournament Opener

The Pitt Panthers emerged victorious after a rock fight against Mississippi State in the First Four.

DAYTON -- The Pitt Panthers marched into Dayton, Ohio facing an unfamiliar opportunity. They were one of the squads to open March Madness, sneaking into the field as one of the "Last Four In" to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth in seven years. 

They met Mississippi State at the First Four at UD Dayton and played with renewed energy - defending intensely and moving the ball with conviction on their way to a 60-59 victory. Jamarius Burton's turnaround jumper with nine seconds left canceled out a late comeback from the Bulldogs in a thrilling game played in front of what felt and sounded like a Pitt home crowd.

Mississippi State raced out to 14-8 start behind four made triples on their first five attempts. D.J. Jeffries and Shakeel Moore both hit a pair before the first media timeout of the half. Trailing 14-8, the Panthers battled back with their defense. Over the ensuing three minutes, they forced the Bulldogs into five straight missed shots and three turnovers. 

Meanwhile, a 3-pointer from Guillermo Diaz Graham cut the deficit to one and two Blake Hinson freet throws gave Pitt its first lead of the night, 15-14, at the 11:36 mark of the first half. That was the beginning of a 13-2 run for the Panthers, who punctuated their burst with a charge drawn by Diaz Graham and an and-1 3-pointer by Greg Elliot. 

The Bulldogs continued to shoot poorly but used an advantage on the offensive glass to stay in the game. They used eight offensive rebounds to score eight second chance points and arrive at the final media timeout of the first half tied at 27. 

Another 3-pointer from Cummings - the Panthers' eighth of the first half - went down with 48 seconds until intermission, and went to the locker room up 35-34. 

Through the first four and a half minutes of the second half, each of the seven buckets scored resulted in a lead change. Mississippi State took a 42-41 lead into the first media break behind a couple of strong buckets from Dashawn Davis. Cummings picked up right where he left off as well, making his first two shots after halftime to bring his scoring total to 13, all of which were extremely necessary with leading scorer Jamarius Burton saddled by foul trouble. 

The game deteriorated into a defensive slog for there, with just two made field games coming over the ensuing four minutes. A long 2-pointer from Davis put the Bulldogs up three - tied for their largest lead of the half to that point - with 9:19 to play. Cummings responded with a fine reverse layup to make it just a one-point advantage again, but he came up limping. 

Cummings played through whatever pain he was feeling and the Panthers found some offensive opportunities in transition. A layup from Nike Sibande on the runout put the Panthers ahead 50-49 with 7:32 to go. After Moore put the Bulldogs back out in front with a turnaround jumper, Burton went back to the scorer's table. 

After he checked in, Pitt tightened their defense and attacked the paint. Free throws from Elliot regained the lead at 53-52. A jumper from Greg Elliot gave the Panthers their largest lead of the evening at 55-52 with 3:53 to play and a bomb of a 3-pointer from Hinson sent the pro-Pitt crowd at UD arena into a frenzy as their squad earned their largest lead of the night at 58-52 and forced their opponents to call timeout. 

Smith broke a 7-0 Pitt run with a dunk, which sparked an 7-0 response from the Bulldogs that put them out in front. But Burton, who had spent most of the night on the bench, nailed a trademark fadeaway jumper with nine seconds left to put the Panthers back up 60-59. 

Mississippi State's last possession ended with a missed wide-open triple from the corner and multiple close-range attempts, as the Panthers escaped with their frist NCAA Tournament win since 2014. 

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