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.