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Preview: Texas to take on upstart Lipscomb for NIT Championship at MSG

Lipscomb looks to complete their unlikely run as they face Texas in the Championship Game of the NIT.

While the NCAA Tournament gets much of the attention in March and early April, the NIT continues to plug along. Founded in 1938, the National Invitational Tournament continues to be one of the premier basketball tournaments. The tradition continued on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden with two semifinal games. Lipscomb defeated Wichita State while Texas beat TCU to set up an interesting NIT Championship on Thursday.

Fifth-seeded Lipscomb took out long time Cinderella team Wichita State 71-64 in the first semifinal. Garrison Mathews scored 34 points, including nine three-pointers in the win. While Mathews had a good night shooting, both the Bisons and Shockers struggled as both teams shot under 40 percent from the field. The game turned into a grind it out, who can make the next basket type of contest. Lipscomb answered the bell to advance.

“I think people should know about us now, winning the conference last year, playing UNC, pretty close to the end,” said Mathews after the game. “And then this year, we’re still playing, we’re one of four teams still playing after the first two games of the Final Four from March Madness.”

For Wichita State, the season ended on a sour note in a year that featured 12 underclassmen on the roster. With that much change and young players, the Shockers still managed to win 22 games and make it MSG.

“This was a year where we could have taken a big dip, I mean, a big dip,” said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. “We didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but the last eight, nine weeks, playing the likes of Cincinnati twice and at Clemson and at Indiana, Lipscomb on the road, Furman, Temple, amongst others, we went 14 out of the last 18, and we’re in Madison Square Garden playing in April.”

In the other semifinal game, Texas defeated TCU 58-44. Much maligned senior guard Kerwin Roach II scored 22 in the win. Roach, who was suspended two separate times during the season, scored 23 points in the first half to lead the charge for the Longhorns.

“Played with great energy, continued to have a commitment to defense. I told the guys before the game, you know, with don’t want to stop playing,” said Texas coach Shaka Smart. “We want to play one more after tonight, TCU, really gotten the better of us the last two times we played. Our guys were really motivated to beat them and it started on the defensive end. That was huge.”

Power 5 vs. Mid-Major

We now have a matchup between two teams that are at different levels in college basketball. Texas and Shaka Smart is trying to prove that the hype surrounding the team this season was warranted by winning the NIT. Lipscomb is attempting to win its first Division I championship in school history and continue their string of upsets.

For both teams, the emphasis on Thursday will be defense. For the Longhorns, Smart teaches tight pressure defense, something that was displayed against TCU. That defense will be critical against Lipscomb’s three-point shooting machine Mathews. Closing out on shooters and knowing where they are at all times will be paramount for a Texas win.

For the Bisons, their hot shooting will need to continue. The defense will be, but if Lipscomb is unable to break Texas’ pressure defense and find open shooters, the game could get out of hand quickly. They must also keep that edge that they currently have. They are from the Atlantic Sun conference, which is a small conference not many people know about. Over these last two weeks, people are starting to know the conference and Lipscomb. They want that to continue.

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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for DoubleGSports.com as well as a columnist, hosting the Bump 'N Run column once per week. He also co-hosts a weekly basketball podcast, The Box Out, every Thursday evening with fellow DoubleGSports.com writer Jason Cordner.
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