Nov 15, 2001
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - In a battle of two of the West Coast's premier big men, a little guy stole the show.
Freshman Matt Mitchell scored 17 points, including 9-for-10 from the free-throw line, as Fresno State advanced to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT with a 65-58 victory Thursday night over Southern California (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP).
Mitchell, a lightly recruited 6-foot point guard from Atlanta, made a key 3-pointer and four straight free throws in the final 52.7 seconds as the Bulldogs held on for the upset.
Fresno State (2-0) advanced to play the winner of Friday night's Arkansas-Wake Forest matchup on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Michigan State meets Syracuse in the other semifinal.
"I had a lot of confidence in myself," Mitchell said. "I just had to get coach (Jerry Tarkanian) to believe in me, and hopefully now he does."
Tarkanian said Fresno State was the only Division I school to offer Mitchell a scholarship.
"I don't know how we got him," Tarkanian said. "He's just a gift."
Sam Clancy scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds before fouling out for the Trojans (1-1), who clawed back from a 14-point halftime deficit to tie the game with 3:11 left.
But USC, which advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament last season, scored just one basket the rest of the way.
The Trojans lost despite limiting Fresno State to 28.1 percent shooting and holding Melvin Ely, the Western Athletic Conference preseason player of the year, to nine points. Chris Jefferies led the Bulldogs with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"The game plan was to not let Jefferies, Ely and (Damon) Jackson beat us," USC coach Henry Bibby said. "The little guy beat us, and that's OK."
An expected battle between Clancy and Ely never materialized as both teams struggled offensively.
The Trojans finished just two of 18 from 3-point range and attempted 21 fewer free throws. Clancy, Jerry Dupree and David Bluthenthal all fouled out in the final minutes.
"We got back into the game, but then we go four times down the floor and don't even get a shot," Bibby said. "That's what kills you."
Fresno State led 39-24 at halftime even though Ely attempted just two shots.
A 12-0 Bulldogs scoring run midway through the first half turned a one-point edge into a 25-12 lead.
USC got a big lift in the second half from freshman Rory O'Neil, who scored 11 points and helped Clancy double team Ely.
A 3-pointer by Brandon Granville with 3:11 left tied it at 56-56, but Fresno State made eight of nine free throws down the stretch to keep the Trojans at bay.
Mitchell was inserted into Fresno State's rotation after Tito Maddox was dismissed from the team during the summer for accepting gifts from an agent. Maddox's replacement, Chris Sandy, was declared ineligible until spring semester pending a second NCAA appeal.
Tarkanian said he did not know if Sandy would accompany the team to New York.
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