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Mississippi State in NIT final after 84-62 win over La Tech
By STEPHEN HAWKINS
FRISCO, Texas (AP) Iverson Molinar scored 25 points and D.J. Stewart Jr. had 23, with the guards combining for nine 3-pointers, as Mississippi State led throughout to beat Louisiana Tech 84-62 on Saturday and reach its first NIT championship game.
Mississippi State (18-14) scored the game's first 11 points. Molinar, who finished with five 3s, hit from long range on the Bulldogs' first shot before Stewart had a run of 14 consecutive points that included all four of his made 3s in the matchup of No. 4 seeds.
Two days after hitting the game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of the quarterfinal round to beat Richmond, Stewart made his first five shots. He had eight points in a 79-second span before a Louisiana Tech timeout, then hit consecutive 3s after that for a 17-5 lead.
Big freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Louisiana Tech (23-8), which opened the NIT with a win over another Southeastern Conference team, No. 1 seed Ole Miss. Kalob Ledoux had 11 points and Jacolby Pemberton 10.
Derek Fountain added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting for Mississippi State, which plays Memphis for the NIT championship Sunday. Louisiana Tech was in its first NIT semifinal since 1986, and has never gotten to the title game.
Stewart picked up where he left off after pushing Mississippi State over Richmond 68-67, when his game-winning 3 was the last of 16 lead changes in a game that also included eight ties.
Isaiah Crawford made a layup for Louisiana Tech to cut the gap to 41-31. Mississippi State responded with a 13-3 run when Stewart had a layup and Molinar scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3s that made it 54-34 with 13:48 to play.
Mississippi State became the first team to score at least 70 points against Louisiana Tech since Jan. 22. Tech had set a school record by holding 14 consecutive opponents under 70 points since an 82-74 loss at UTEP.
Mississippi State takes on No. 1 seed Memphis on Sunday in the first NIT championship game played outside New York City. Louisiana Tech plays a consolation game against Colorado State, which lost 90-67 to the Tigers in the other semifinal Saturday.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/College-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated March 28, 2021