If we must have mid-on-mid violence in the NIT, than least let it be thrilling. Fortunately, that’s just what happened as Lipscomb pulled ahead late in an exciting, three-point-filled back-and-forth battle to get an 89-81 win at Davidson.
That clash was one of 10 games in the NIT’s first night of action, and none may have been more notable.
It was the first postseason win for the Bisons since jumping to Division I in 2002. The usual suspects had quality games, with Garrison Matthews scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds, while Rob Marberry put in 17 points on just 10 shots. But it was junior guard Matt Buckland’s season-high 18 points that pushed Lipscomb past the Wildcats. With the game tied at 71 and 5:25 remaining, Buckland went on a personal 6-0 run in less than a minute by hitting a three and then converting an and-one on the next possession.
This gave the Bisons separation they wouldn’t relinquish, and Buckland drilled a three with just under three minutes left to further keep Davidson at bay.
The Wildcats finish the season at 24-10, and if we had to lose them, as least we lost them with Kellan Grady going down swinging. The sophomore capped off what was at-times an inconsistent season (by his standards) by pouring in a career-high 31 points (12-21 FG). Luka Brajkovic ended his breakout freshman season with a 15-point outing (7-12 FG).
Here were some other notable happenings from the NIT’s opening night, as some incredible mid-major careers came to a close.
No. 1 UNC Greensboro 84, No. 8 Campbell 69
Chris Clemons got loose against No. 1 seed UNC Greensboro with 32 points, but it took 25 shots to get there, and the Spartans stingy defense held serve overall. They held the Camels to their least efficient offense night since a road loss to High Point with their stifling man-to-man defense.
James Dickey & Co. controlled the glass, while Isaiah Miller (25 points) and Francis Alonso (22 points) powered the offense. It was so far, so good for a team whose designation as the first team out was impressive in of itself — even if that was not much consolation in a heartbroken locker room.
“Everybody’s devastated,” a bleary-eyed Miller said an hour after the show ended. “That would probably be the best word. Devastated. We’re devastated as a program. And hearing that we’re the first team out of the field, maybe down the road one day that will be some consolation. … But today it makes it even harder to swallow, knowing you were that close.”
Nonetheless, the Spartans pulled together and march on to play Lipscomb in a great mid-on-mid match up. Still, a tip of the cap to Clemons, who rides off into the sunset as one of the greatest scorers in NCAA history.
No. 2 Texas 79, No. 7 South Dakota State 73
Greatest scorers in NCAA history, you say?
There was another one of those playing on Tuesday night, as Mike Daum (25 points, 11 rebounds) powered South Dakota State back into a game that saw Texas jump out to a 19-0 lead. The script flipped quickly, as the Jackrabbits pulled within eight points by halftime.
Daum then exploded midway through the second half, at one point scoring on the offensive end, then racing down the court to emphatically block Longhorns’ guard Courtney Ramey at the rim. SDSU did take a brief second half lead, and pulled within one point with just over a minute left on a Daum layup.
But it was ultimately not enough, and the Jackrabbits head back to Brookings to prepare for life without Daum, and wait out an offseason where T.J. Otzelberger will likely be a hot name in the high major rumor mill.
No. 2 NC State, No. 7 Hofstra 78
In Raleigh, Hofstra couldn’t hold on to a three-point halftime lead and lost a tight game to North Carolina State. Justin Wright-Foreman (29 points) kept the Pride within striking distance, converting an and-one after they had fallen behind by eight points with just over three minutes left. After a defensive stop, he took a pass from Jalen Ray and drilled a three on the ensuing possession to bring Hofstra within two points.
That, however, was close as the Pride would get.
The game closes a season that saw Hofstra win the CAA regular season title, and run off a 16-game winning streak at one point. Wright-Foreman won his second consecutive CAA POY award, and averaged over 27 points per game in the final year of an illustrious career.
No. 2 Creighton 70, No. 7 Loyola Chicago 61
The Ramblers March experience wrapped up much quicker than a year ago.
Loyola Chicago came up just short as Porter Moser returned to his old stomping grounds at Creighton. It was a frustrating end for two legendary program players in Clayton Custer (9 points) and Marques Townes (4 points), who nonetheless delivered an NIT appearance and share of Missouri Valley regular season title in an impossible encore year.