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Utah, Penn State advance to Postseason NIT title game

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Tuesday’s Postseason NIT semifinal matchups at Madison Square Garden were polar opposites, with one not being decided until the final minute and the other getting out of hand in the second quarter. Utah and Penn State were the winners, with the Runnin’ Utes beating Western Kentucky and the Nittany Lions blowing out Mississippi State.

Utah (23-11), which will play in the Postseason NIT final for the first time since 1974, beat Western Kentucky 69-64 as a Tyler Rawson three-pointer with 38.1 seconds remaining gave Larry Krystkowiak’s team the lead for good. Justin Bibbins made just three of his eight shot attempts from the field, but the first team All Pac-12 point guard managed to lead for Utah players in double figures with 19 points as he was 12-for-12 at the foul line.

Joining Bibbins in double figures were Sedrick Barefield (14 points), David Collette (13 points, seven rebounds) and Rawson (12 points, eight rebounds).

Utah won despite struggling to deal with Justin Johnson, who in his final collegiate game led all scorers with 24 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds. Fellow senior Dwight Coleby also posted a double-double, scoring ten points and grabbing 13 rebounds, and Lamonte Bearden added 12 points.

Bearden shot 5-for-10 from the field, but fellow guards Taveion Hollingsworth and Darius Thompson combined to shoot 4-for-20 and score 12 points on the night. What also hurt WKU (27-11) were offensive fouls called on Johnson and Bearden in the game’s final minute.

As noted above Penn State (25-13), which will look to win the program’s first Postseason NIT title since 2009 when it faces Utah Thursday night, had a far easier time in its semifinal. Patrick Chambers’ team beat Mississippi State 75-60, with the Nittany Lions ripping off a 24-0 run that began with a Shep Garner three-pointer with 2:36 remaining in the first quarter to take control of the game.

Garner would become the school’s all-time leader in made three-pointers during Tuesday’s semifinal, passing Pete Lisicky by making his 333nd career three in the third quarter. Garner finished the game with six three-pointers and 18 points, with Tony Carr leading the way with 21 points and Lamar Stevens adding 17.

For the game Penn State shot nearly 51 percent from the field and 11-for-20 from three, with that first half flurry being too much for Mississippi State (25-12) to overcome. Tyson Carter led three Bulldogs in double figures with 19 points off the bench, as Abdul Ado added 13 points and Aric Holman ten.

NCAA announces experimental rules to be used during NIT

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While it’s the NCAA tournament that captivates much of the nation for three weekends in March/early April, the Postseason NIT is an important event as well. Not only are there 32 teams looking to end their seasons on a positive note, but the event tends to be used as a way for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee to see the effects that proposed rules changes would have on the game.

Tuesday afternoon it was announced that four experimental rules modifications will be used in this year’s Postseason NIT, including moving the three-point line out to the international distance of 22 feet, 1.75 inches. Also, the lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, matching the width used in the NBA.

Both of these rules modifications are being made to see if such a move will help improve spacing and limit physical play in the half-court.

The other two rules modifications will impact the clock, with games being split into four, ten-minute quarters as opposed to two, 20-minute halves. And an offensive rebound will trigger the shot clock being reset to 20 seconds as opposed to the full 30 seconds.

With the NCAA playing rules process having a two-year cycle, the earliest that rules changes can be made will be May 2019. But even with that being the case, these games provide the rules committed with valuable on-court evidence when assessing the possible impact of these changes.

“Experimenting with two significant court dimension rules, a shot-clock reset rule and a game-format rule all have some level of support in the membership, so the NIT will provide the opportunity to gather invaluable data and measure the experience of the participants,” NCAA senior vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt said in the release.

George Washington wins first Postseason NIT title

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Thursday night’s Postseason NIT championship matchup featured two teams, No. 1 seed Valparaiso and No. 4 seed George Washington, that began this season with hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t work out as either team would have hoped, with the Crusaders falling in the Horizon League tournament and the Colonials not getting the wins needed to earn an at-large bid out of the Atlantic 10, but both had the chance to return home with a championship trophy.

And it was Mike Lonergan’s team that would accomplish that goal, pulling away in the second half to beat Valparaiso by the final score of 76-60.

Kevin Larsen led four Colonials in double figures with 18 points, with Patricio Garino adding 14 points, Joe McDonald 13, eight rebounds and four assists and tournament Most Outstanding Player Tyler Cavanaugh 12 points. Leading by one at the intermission, George Washington outscore Valparaiso 44-29 in the second half with the Crusaders struggling to make shots.

Bryce Drew’s team finished the game 8-for-28 from three, with forward Alec Peters being their lone double-digit scorer with 15 points. Valparaiso shot 39 percent from the field, and the reliance on perimeter shots was one reason why they were outscored 22-6 from the foul line. That margin was the biggest difference, and as a result George Washington is headed home with their first postseason tournament title.

The Colonials join Columbia (CIT) and Old Dominion (Vegas 16) as winners of postseason tournaments thus far. Nevada hosts Morehead State in Game 3 of the CBI Finals Friday night.

Evansville, Stanford win postseason tournament titles

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Thursday night two championships were determined, with the title games of the CIT and NIT being played. With Evansville winning the CIT and Stanford the Postseason NIT, the non-NCAA tournament portion of the 2014-15 schedule has been completed.

Marty Simmons’ Purple Aces became the second Missouri Valley Conference team to win a postseason event in as many days, with Loyola (IL) winning the CBI title on Wednesday, as they beat Northern Arizona 71-65 in Evansville. Egidijus Mockevicius led the way offensively for Evansville with 27 points and he also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

Guard D.J. Balentine, the team’s leading scorer on the season, chipped in with 16 points. Evansville shot just 1-for-10 from three but made up for that by scoring 20 points from the foul line, seven more than NAU. First team All-Big Sky selection Kris Yanku, who will be a junior next season, led Jack Murphy’s team with 18 points.

The Lumberjacks picked up the first postseason wins in school history in the CIT, and with Yanku leading the way they should once again be a factor in the Big Sky next season. As for Evansville they had just one senior this season, guard Jaylon Moore, and the returning depth and talent should mean good things for the Purple Aces in 2015-16.

As for the Postseason NIT, Stanford’s senior class of Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic and Chasson Randle won the title as freshmen and Thursday night managed to do so as seniors. Randle scored 25 points to lead the Cardinal to a 68-66 overtime win over Miami at Madison Square Garden, earning MVP honors as a result.

Miami’s quest for the program’s first-ever postseason title fell short, as Sheldon McClellan was forced to double-clutch a corner three in the final seconds by the solid defending of Stanford’s Anthony Brown. McClellan led the Hurricanes with 17 points but did so on 5-for-16 shooting, with Davon Reed adding 16 points and Ja’Quan Newton ten. Stefan Nastic scored 11 points for Stanford before fouling out late in the second half.

Stanford has some key pieces to account for next season, as Brown, Randle and Nastic will all be out of eligibility. However they have some young talent, including guard Marcus Allen and forwards Rosco Allen, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis, to work with this offseason.

As for Miami, Jim Larrañaga won’t lack for depth or talent in 2015-16. Miami didn’t have a senior on this year’s roster, and that includes two contributors in Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri who missed Thursday’s game due to injury. With that being the case, Miami should be able to earn the NCAA tournament bid they missed out on this season in what will be an incredibly tough ACC.

Trey Freeman’s banked-in three sends Old Dominion to NIT semifinals (VIDEO)

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While the NCAA tournament receives the lion’s share of the attention this time of year, the Postseason NIT’s had some good moments as well. One night after Miami and Stanford clinched their spots in next week’s semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Old Dominion did the same with a 72-69 win over Murray State.

The hero was guard Trey Freeman, who answered a Jarvis Moss game-tying three with a banked-in three a couple steps inside of half court after time expired. Freeman wasn’t even a sure bet to play in the game, as he was dealing with an ankle injury suffered in practice prior to the Monarchs’ second round win over Illinois State. Freeman finished Wednesday’s game with 25 points.

As a result of Freeman’s heroics Jeff Jones’ team, which was closer to the NCAA tournament bubble than many gave them credit for in the days leading up to Selection Sunday, is two wins away from capping their second season in Conference USA with a postseason tournament title.

As for Murray State, this is the second heartbreaking finish of the month for Steve Prohm’s team with the first coming on a Taylor Barnette three-pointer in the OVC title game. That shot sent Belmont to the NCAA tournament and ended the Racers’ hopes of going to the NCAA tournament. Freeman’s shot Wednesday night ended their season.

Old Dominion will take on Stanford Tuesday night in New York City.

Video credit: ESPN

‘First four out’ to receive one-seeds in Postseason NIT

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One of the biggest questions that gets asked in the immediate aftermath of the NCAA tournament bracket being announced is which teams were the ones closest to getting into the field. Of course with “bracketology” being what it is today, we tend to have a better idea of which teams those are, but the NCAA has decided to ensure that the four teams in question are rewarded in the Postseason NIT.

Wednesday afternoon the NCAA announced that the “first four out” of the NCAA tournament field will be the one-seeds in the Postseason NIT. With the first three rounds of the Postseason NIT being played on college campuses (the higher seeds host), those teams won’t have to leave campus before a possible trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and title game.

“We think this is a natural progression to make, given that these are the last four teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament,” Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, said in the release.

“They have earned the opportunity to be a number one seed in the NIT and play home games in their quest to make it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT championship. We believe this is an appropriate way to connect these two postseason tournaments.”

With the NCAA taking control of the NIT in 2005, efforts have been made to greater connect the two postseason events and Wednesday’s news is the latest step in that regard. Since 2012 the NCAA has released an overall seed list (tournament teams ranked 1 through 68) that includes the first four teams left out of the NCAA tournament.

This year’s Postseason NIT will also serve as a testing ground of sorts for two possible rules changes, with games using a 30-second shot clock and a block/charge arc of four feet (increased from three feet). The Division I men’s basketball rules committee will use the data from NIT and CBI games as part of the evaluation process when it comes to the possibility of making these changes permanent.