Opening night of the NIT Tournament was a sensation for the mid-majors and the second night, while not as on point, provided a plethora of stellar performances.
Seven of the eight games on the docket housed at least one mid-major institution, featuring some upsets, down to the wire games, a NCAA tournament snub, Illinois State’s return to action, and the much anticipated Jim Boeheim matchup with the Spartans of UNC Greensboro and their city.
Let’s get down with the get down on the skinny.
The full bracket can be seen here.
(1) Syracuse 90, (8) UNC Greensboro 77
In the most anticipated game of the NIT, the UNC Greensboro Spartans headed up north for a matchup with the Syracuse Orange, where Andrew White III exploded for 34 points, knocking down seven of nine three-pointers in the win. Syracuse took control of the game late in the first half, creating separation that proved to be too much of a hurdle for the Spartans. There was certainly no quit in UNC Greensboro, who got 19 points from Diante Baldwin. They mounted a late run, cutting the lead to 81-74, but it was too late for the Spartans to complete the comeback. Syracuse will face Ole Miss in the 2nd round.
(7) Belmont 78, (2) Georgia 69
The Belmont Bruins pulled off the road victory, using superior shooting from behind the arc and a willingness to spread the wealth. The Bruins made 14-31 from three, had four players score in double figures, and shared the basketball with 16 assists. Dylan Windler led Belmont with 21 points and nine rebounds as the Bruins took a 37-34 lead into the half over the Bulldogs. They would extend the lead to eleven when Amanze Egekeze (14 points) knocked down a three forcing Georgia into a timeout. Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette chipped in 15 a piece, and it was Barnette making one of his four triples that gave Belmont its biggest lead a 68-54. The Bulldogs, behind 29 points from J.J. Frazier cut the lead to eight, but that was a close as they would get. Belmont advances to play at Georgia Tech Sunday at noon.
(7) Akron 78, (2) Houston 75
In a stunner, Isaiah Johnson scored 21 points and the Akron Zips, with their free throw shooting, sealed the win over the Houston Cougars. In this back and forth affair, the largest lead was six by the Cougars with six minutes to play. The Zips caught fire, and used an 11-3 run to take a 70-68 lead. In the last two minutes, only one field goal was made, by Damyean Dotson (19 points) giving Houston a one point lead. Akron would close the game out at the foul line, advancing the Zips to the second round. Rob Gray Jr. led all scorers with 24 points. Akron will go on the road to face UT Arlington.
(1) Illinois State 85, (8) UC Irvine 71
The Redbirds remained unbeaten at home as they cruised past UC Irvine, showing no effects of a let down from being left out of the NCAA Tournament. Paris Lee ran the show, finishing with 13 points, but it was 22 points and six three-pointers from Deontae Hawkins that paced the way for Illinois State. The high intensity, uptempo style of the Redbirds kept them with a double digit lead for most of the game. They also finished with 22 assists as a team and shot 52 percent from the field. Illinois State will stay at home to play host to UCF on Monday, March 20.
(1) Iowa 87, (8) South Dakota 75
South Dakota kept things interesting for most of the night, only trailing by four at the half and keeping the game within reach until midway through the second half. Iowa’s freshmen found a groove, especially Jordan Bohannon who finished with 19 points and 11 assists. The Coyotes competed, having three players in double figures, with sophomore guard Matt Mooney scoring 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Senior Tyler Flack finished his college career with 16 points and a Summit League regular season championship.
(4) TCU 66, (5) Fresno State 59
The Horned Frogs used a second half 15-4 run to create enough of a cushion that prevented Fresno State from a come from behind win. The Bulldogs were playing from behind for the duration, even taking a lead 44-43, which they surrendered minutes later. Jaron Hopkins, 12 points, and Deshon Taylor, 13 points, were the only Bulldogs to register in double figures.
(6) UT Arlington 105, (3) BYU 89
Offensive production was at a premium in Provo in the opening round of the NIT between the BYU Cougars and UT Arlington Mavericks. Everyone must have been seeing a big basket in the first half, as a total of 117 points were scored which found UT Arlington ahead 62-55 at the break. The Mavericks would continue to apply the pressure offensively, using beautiful execution on back screens evidenced by scoring 50 points in the paint, and player movement for open looks. Senior Drew Charles had a career high 28 points for UT Arlington, point guard Erick Neal had 13 assists, and Kaelon Wilson and Kevin Hervey added 20 points each. BYU did not take care of the basketball, committing 20 turnovers that the Mavericks turned into 32 points. Eric Mika led BYU with 29 points and seven rebounds, and Nick Emery added 24 points. UT Arlington will host Akron on Monday at 7 p.m.