Freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and collected seven rebounds to lift No. 17 Villanova past Mississippi State 83-76 in the semifinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Friday.
The Wildcats (4-1) will face either No. 24 Baylor or Coastal Carolina in the championship Sunday.
Robinson-Earl knocked down two clutch free throws with 35.1 seconds left to extend Villanova's lead to 79-74 and seal the victory.
Collin Gillespie scored 18 points and added nine assists, Saddiq Bey contributed 17 points and Jermaine Samuels had 14.
Tyson Carter led the Bulldogs with 22 points, Reggie Perry added 18 points and 10 rebounds and Robert Woodard II had 17.
Mississippi State lost for the first time in six games.
Thanks to three thunderous dunks from Woodard, Mississippi State jumped out to a 22-18 lead.
But the Wildcats responded with a 16-0 run, anchored by eight straight points from Robinson-Earl, to go back ahead 34-22 with 4:56 left in the first half. During the spurt, the Bulldogs missed all seven shots and committed three turnovers.
Mississippi State closed within 35-31 before Villanova came back again for a 42-33 lead at halftime. Gillespie, who scored 14 points in the first half, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a nine-point advantage. Perry (11) and Woodard (10) kept the Bulldogs close.
Woodard drained a deep 3-pointer from the wing and Iverson Molinar scored in the paint as Mississippi State cut the lead to 46-44 with 16:25 remaining.
After the Bulldogs got within 51-50, Villanova then received consecutive 3-pointers by Robinson-Earl and Samuels to go back ahead 57-50.
Robinson-Earl later found Bey open in the lane and he sent home a dunk for a 66-57 Villanova lead.
The fourth dunk of the game by Woodard cut the gap to 66-61 with 7:21 left.
Robinson-Earl's offensive rebound and basket pushed the Wildcats' lead back to 76-67 with 2:31 to go.
The Bulldogs didn't wilt and Carter used a screen by Perry to knock down a 3-pointer to pull his team within 77-72 with 2:04 remaining. After a missed free throw by Justin Moore, Carter then drove to the basket to cut the lead to 77-74.
--Field Level Media