Monday night’s results in the 2017 NIT served to officially discredit the ever-popular moniker “Not Important Tournament.”
First and foremost, 1 seed Illinois State fell victim to a 14-point comeback from UCF, losing 63-62. Illinois State was a bubble team and one of the last few to miss the cut in the NCAA Tournament field. The Redbirds could not capitalize on the opportunity to make a statement.
The NIT can also serve as a preview of teams that may be on the rise. In fact, eight of the 32 teams in the NIT last year went to the Big Dance this year. Four of those teams won their First Round games.
(8) CSU Bakersfield 81 (4) Colorado State 63
The lowest seed in its region cruised to the easiest win of the night. Seniors Jaylin Airington and Dedrick Basile combined for 36 points, and Damiyne Durham pitched in 12 off the bench on 4-5 shooting from three. Gian Clavell led all scorers with 21 points for for the Rams.
(4) UCF 63 (1) Illinois State 62
Not only did the Redbirds lose their 22-game home winning streak, but it came in excruciating fashion. B.J. Taylor converted two free throws after being fouled with four seconds left to put the Knights on top, to complete his night with 22 points and five assists. Then there was 7’6 Tacko Fall, who pitched in eight points and 14 rebounds. Let’s just say this sophomore combo is going to be good. Also, A.J. Davis hit three threes to help the Knights late in the game. Illinois State will lose Deon Hawkins, who led the Redbirds with 15 points, as well as Paris Lee.
(7) Akron 69 (6) UT-Arlington 85
The Mavericks’ win against Akron was their 14th straight at home. Kaelon Wilson starred with 18 points and shot 78 percent from the field, while junior guard Erick Neal had 13 points and nine assists. Jimond Ivey had 14 points and eight rebounds for Akron, but the Zips could not get close in this one. The will Mavericks face CSU Bakersfield for a spot in the semifinals.
(6) Boise State 56, (2) Illinois 71
The Fighting Illini separated themselves from the Broncos in the second half thanks to four scoring in double figures. Malcolm Hill posted 13 to become Illinois’ third all-time leading scorer. Tracy Abrams is also graduating on a high note, as he had an outpouring of 18 points. Sophomore Leron Black shows the most promise for the program in the future. He had 12 points, 10 rebounds and two steals, and future coach Brad Underwood was in attendance to see it.