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For Penn State and Utah, the NIT was bigger than a consolation prize

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NEW YORK – Before stepping foot in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak had never made the final four of a tournament. Since he started as an assistant in Montana in 1998, he has always been on the outside looking in on teams playing on the last few days of the college basketball season.

So you can spare him the talk about the NIT being a consolation prize.

“It’s the time of my life, actually,” Krystkowiak said, despite his Utes losing 82-66 to Penn State in the NIT title game on Thursday. “People on the outside writing articles [about the NIT], have comments, opinions about what’s going on. They have no idea how cool this was for us.”

It was, even for the casual observer, a “cool” night at the Garden. The attendance broke 11,000, the largest since 2005, as Penn State supporters packed the stands. In previous years, there might be just three or four sections filled with fans. Thursday night, even some sections in the upper deck were full.

There was a constant stream of “We are Penn State” chants. There was a back-and-forth “Utah” and “Penn State” cheer between supporters of both sides. It sounded like a championship game. It felt like both teams genuinely wanted it.

In the end, Penn State outplayed Utah. Lamar Stevens couldn’t miss in the second half, as the Utes never responded to the Nittany Lions’ surge. After the final buzzer sounded, Penn State players did what only champions get to do: cut down the nets. And not just anywhere – at MSG, the mecca of basketball.

“Now we have something that we can always go to … to say we won something,” said Penn State guard Shep Garner. “We’re champions.”

Think this tournament didn’t matter? Ask Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, who choked up in his postgame remarks talking about how special this win was.

“The losses never leave us and the wins are just not gratifying enough,” he said. “But this one, this one’s going to be gratifying.”

Just two teams get to call themselves “champions” at the end of the college basketball season. It is true that both Penn State and Utah only participated in the NIT because they weren’t chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t diminish the seasons they put together.

“You want to win the game, but losing it doesn’t take away from anything,” said Utah guard Justin Bibbins, who played the final college game of his career on Thursday. “You get to come to New York with your boys.”

Krystkowiak said that he talked to a coach who had gone to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, but had also won the NIT.

“[He] said of all of his experiences, the NIT was the best experience,” Krystkowiak said.

Both Krystkowiak and Chambers said before the game that they would rather win the NIT than lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There is more experience for young players who need it, more exposure on national television and, at the end of the day, the deeper you play, the better it is — no matter the tournament.

“It’s a springboard for us,” Chambers said. “To cut down some nets, that means winning. You’re winning, you’re finding success, and that helps everything out. That helps ticket sales. That helps recruiting.”

When Penn State practiced these past few weeks, Chambers told his players that they were still competing for a championship. In the huddle, he would say, “New York.” When he sensed that his players were getting a little sluggish, he reminded them: “New York.”

“That was coach,” Garner said. “Coach told us, ‘We’re here. We’ve got to get to New York. We’ve got to win a championship in New York.’ To see that we achieved the goal we set out to get, great.”

NIT finals matchup set

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No. 1 Valparaiso 72, No. 2 BYU 70: The Crusaders blew a 16-point lead, but David Skara connected on a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to break a tie and eventually give Valpo a spot in the NIT finals.

Skara, a reserve, scored a season-high 15 points for Valpo while Alec Peters also had 15. The Crusaders held BYU to 38.2 percent shooting, though it nearly wasn’t enough as Kyle Collinsworth had 20 points, Nick Emery, 18 and Chase Fischer 16 to help the Cougars claw back into the game until Skara’s winner.

Madison Square Garden will host the NIT finals Thursday with Valp facing off against…

No. 4 George Washington 65, No. 2 San Diego State 46: …the Colonials after they blasted SDSU on Tuesday night.

GW led by 15 at halftime, and the Aztecs were never able to mount a credible comeback throughout the second half as they shot 28.8 percent from the field and 13.6 percent (3 of 22) from 3-point range. Dakarai Allen had 13 points for SDSU but was 3 of 10 from the floor with teammate Winston Shepard going 3 of 13 for seven points.

Tyler Cavanaugh starred for the Colonials with 20 points on 7 of 15 shooting. Patricio Garino added 13 points, shooting 6 of 12 from the floor.

Thursday’s title game will tip at 7 p.m. ET.

Wednesday NIT Recap: Two more book NYC trips

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No. 4 George Washington 82, No. 2 Florida 77: Tyler Cavanaugh went on a personal 4-0 run with under 1 minute, 30 seconds left to break a tie and give George Washington the victory over the Gators.

Cavanaugh scored 23 points in 29 minutes as he was 4 of 5 from deep and 7 of 14 overall. Kevin Larsen added 19 points and 13 rebounds while Patricio Garino had 13 points and eight boards.

KeVaughn Allen had 22 points in the Gators’ season-ender.

In the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden next week, George Washington draws…

No. 2 San Diego State 72, No. 4 Georgia Tech 56: The Aztecs broke a halftime tie to run away for victory and earn their spot at MSG against George Washington.

Malik Pope had 10 points and 10 rebounds while Trey Kell had 18 points for SDSU.

The Yellow Jackets got 18 points from Marcus Georges-Hunt, but were just 2 of 10 from 3-point range as a team and shot 44 percent from the floor.

SDSU will face George Washington next Tuesday at 9 p.m. in New York, following the first semifinal matchup between BYU and Valpo.

Tuesday Night NIT Recap: BYU and Valpo off to MSG

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No. 2 BYU 88, No. 4 Creighton 82: Five Cougars scored in double figures to help BYU into a berth in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden next week.

Zac Seljaas was 5 of 6 from 3-point range to score 19 points while adding seven rebounds. Kyle Davis had 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting, Nick Emery had 17 points, Chase Fischer 15 and Kyle Collinsworth 10 for BYU. Mery also had seven rebounds and four assists.

Geoffrey Groselle was 8 of 10 from the floor to score 22 points while grabbing eight rebounds while Cole Huff had a double-double of 18 points and 11 boards for the Jays.

With an NIT title game on the line, up next for the Cougars is….

No. 1 Valparaiso 66, No. 2 St. Mary’s 44 The Crusaders, after they held St. Mary’s to a second-half point total of 13.

St. Mary’s shot just 33.9 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range as Valpo clamped down in the second half.

Alec Peters had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Crusaders. Keith Carter had 11 points while Vashil Fernandez had nine and Darien Walker eight.

The Valpo/BYU semifinal will be Tuesday, March 29, in New York City, with the other half of the foursome to be determined Wednesday night with matchups between Georgia Tech and San Diego St. as well as George Washington and Florida.

Wednesday night’s NIT recap: Collinsworth gets triple-double; Hokies outlast Princeton in OT


No. 2 BYU 97, No. 7 UAB 79: Kyle Collinsworth recorded a triple-double of 19 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists as the Cougars shot 55.1 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3 en route to thrashing the Blazers.
Chase Fischer made seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points while Nick Emery contributed 22 for BYU.
Robert Brown made five triples and finished with 29 points for UAB.
Next on BYU’s slate is Virginia Tech.

No. 3 Virginia Tech 86, No. 6 Princeton 81, OT: Zach LeDay had 29 points and 11 rebounds while Jalen Hudson had 28 points and eight boards for the Hokies, who outscored the Tigers 18-13 in the extra frame.
Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen made a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left to tie the game, giving Princeton a chance to win in regulation but Devin Cannady’s 3-pointer was off the mark and Alec Brennan’s tip missed as time expired.

No. 8 Wagner 79, No. 1 St. Bonaventure: Twenty-one points, seven rebounds and four assists from Romone Saunders helped Wagner past top seed St. Bonaventure.
The Bonnies were 9 of 31 from 3-point range, with Jaylen Adams, who scored 24 points in 40 minutes, going 6 of 15 and the rest of the team combining to go 3 of 15.
Wagner meets No. 4 Creighton in the second round.

No. 3 Georgia 93, No. 6 Belmont 84: Yante Maten made 14 of 17 shots from the floor, including 3 of 3 from deep, and scored a career-high 33 points for the Bulldogs. Maten also had 10 rebounds. Craig Bradshaw scored 19 for Belmont.
Up next for Georgia is No. 2 St. Mary’s.

George Washington 82, Hofstra 80: Alex Mitola hit the go-ahead shot with 4 seconds left in regulation to put George Washington on top.
Mitola was just 2 of 9 for the day, but teammate Tyler Cavanaugh was 7 of 11 for 20 points (plus 11 rebounds) while Patricio Garino had 19, Kevin Larsen 16 and Yuta Watanabe 15.
Juan’ya Green had 26 points and 10 assists and Rokas Gustys had 14 points and 13 boards.
George Washington takes on Monmouth in the next round.

No. 1 Monmouth 90, No. 8 Bucknell 80: The Hawks made 11 of 27 3-pointers and Justin Robinson had 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Collin Stewart had 16 points and Deon Jones 15 for Monmouth, playing in its first game since being excluded from the NCAA tournament.
Bucknell had six players with at least nine points and five in double figures, led by Chris Hass’ 18.

No. 4 Georgia Tech vs. No. 5 Houston 62: Adam Smith had 20 and teammate Marcus Georges Hunt had 19 as the Yellow Jackets thrashed the Cougars.
Georgia Tech shot 52.5 percent from the field, including 50 percent on 16 3-point attempts, while the Cougars managed to connect on just 2 of 13 shots from beyond the arc.
Devonta Pollard had 21 points for Houston.
Georgia Tech will face South Carolina on Monday.

Tuesday Night’s NIT Recap: Winston Shepard’s triple-double, Washington’s shootout highlight night

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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No. 1 South Carolina 88, No. 8 High Point 66: Despite some pregame drama, the Gamecocks had no problem dispatching High Point in emphatic fashion Tuesday evening.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin announced the indefinite suspension of five reserves just shortly before tipoff for “conduct issues.” The suspensions, though, weren’t a story on the floor as Laimonas Chatkevicius scored 30 points on 15 of 16 shooting and added five rebounds and two assists for the Gamecocks. Sindarius Thornwell added 20 points. South Carolina shot a scintillating 60 percent from the floor.

The Gamecocks get the winner of No. 4 Georgia Tech vs. No. 5 Houston.

No. 3 Ohio State 72, No. 6 Akron 63: The Buckeyes overcame a halftime deficit and outscored the Zips 10-1 in overtime to keep their season alive. JaQuan Lyle had a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds while also dishing out six assists. Marc Loving and Kam Williams both also had 18 points. Loving had 12 rebounds.

The Buckeyes advances to face Florida in the second round because …

No. 2 Florida 97, No. 7 North Florida 68: … the Gators smacked around the Ospreys on the strength of six players posting double-figures. Dorian Finney-Smith led the way with 15 points, nine boards, four steals and two assists.

After the game, Florida announced that center John Egbunu would undergo season-ending thumb surgery to repair torn ligaments.

No. 2 Saint Mary’s 58, No. 7 New Mexico State 56: The Gaels advance to face the winner of No. 3 Georgia and No. 6 Belmont after surviving the Aggies. SMC blew a double-digit second half lead, but after NMSU tied the game with two seconds left, they fouled Joe Rahon, who hit a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left on the clock to win the game.

No. 3 Washington 107, No. 6 Long Beach State 102: Defense was optional in Seattle on Tuesday night as the Huskies avoided an upset at the hands of the 49ers. DeJuonte Murray and Andrew Andrews combined for — get this — 55 points and 10 assists to lead Washington to the win. Marquesse Chriss added 27 points and 12 boards.

The Huskies trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, but Andrew Andrews hit eight free throws in the final minute to seal the win and allow U-Dub to advance to take on …

No. 2 San Diego State 79, No. 7 IPFW 59: … the Aztecs thanks to a triple-double from Winston Shepard, who had 10 points, 12 assists and 10 boards to go along with the 15 points Malik Pope scored.

No. 4 Florida State 84, No. 5 Davidson 74: Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley combined for 44 points on 14 of 29 shooting to help the Seminoles into the second round. Florida State was just 3 of 14 from the 3-point line, but made 21 of 24 free throws. Davidson made 13 of 32 3-pointers (40.6 percent) but got just 17 points from leading scorer Jack Gibbs.

The Seminoles will advance to take on …

No. 1 Valparaiso 84, No. 8 Texas Southern 73: … the Crusaders, who got 28 points from Alec Peters and 10 boards and eight blocks from Vashil Fernandez in the win.

No. 4 Creighton 72, No. 5 Alabama 54: Mo Watson popped off for 20 points and three assists and Geoffrey Groselle chipped in with 12 points and 14 boards as the Bluejays advanced past Avery Johnson and the Crimson Tide. Creighton draws the winner of No. 1 St. Bonaventure vs. No. 8 Wagner in the next round.