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Penn State, Utah advance to NIT Title Game

Penn State and Utah moved on to the championship game of the prestigious tournament.

Tuesday night was the semifinal games of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. While the NIT is always forgotten with the NCAA Tournament going on, the NIT has had its fair share of moments. Let’s not forget it was the first postseason tourney, long before “March Madness” was common vernacular.

The NIT Final Four featured none of the top seeds. Instead, you had three number four seeds and a number two seed in Utah that, if not for some tough losses, would be an NCAA Tournament team. The action began with the matchup between Western Kentucky and Utah in Game #1.

(Photo by Danny Suriel – Double G Media)

Utah 69, Western Kentucky 64

The Hilltoppers dominated the early action as they started the game on an 8-0 run against the Utes. Justin Johnson was the star of the first quarter of (remember they are experimenting playing quarters in the NIT) as he scored 10 points. Western Kentucky led by as much as 13 points in the first, but the second quarter saw the Utes of Utah take over. A 13-3 run gave them a 29-28 lead and all the momentum in the game. A frantic first half ended with the game tied at 32-32 as a last-second dunk by Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden evened up the game.

The second half began with both teams playing tough defense and scoring timely baskets when needed. The referee’s whistles started getting a workout as they called many ticky-tack fouls such as hand checks, which slowed the tempo of the game considerably. Utah shot 72 percent from the field in the third quarter while Western Kentucky shot 50 percent. The result of the quarter…a 51-51 game at the end of three quarters as both teams looked to move on to the Championship Game of the NIT.

Western Kentucky attempted to break the game open in the fourth quarter as Utah went a three-minute scoreless drought. During this time, Johnson took the game over his three-pointer put the Hilltoppers ahead with 8:08 remaining in regulation. Western Kentucky found themselves without a field goal for over two minutes as the deficit was three points for Utah.

Two David Collette free throws gave Utah a 61-60 lead at the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter. The pace picked up which led to bad shots from both teams as field goal-less possessions continued through the latter part of the quarter. Once again Justin Johnson came through as his lay-up put the Hilltoppers ahead 64-63. Once again Utah answered with a three from Tyler Rawson, and the Utes held a 66-64 lead. That would be the go-ahead basket as Utah hold on for the hard-fought win.

(Photo by Danny Suriel – Double G Media)

Penn State 75, Mississippi State 60

The pro-crowd Nittany Lion crowd at MSG liked what they saw in the first quarter. Penn State held Mississippi State scoreless for the final 2:49 of the quarter as they held an 18-11 lead after the first ten minutes of play. Penn State forced four Bulldog turnovers and the stingy defense continued in the second quarter as well.

PSU extended their lead to 37-11 as Mississippi State continued their scoreless streak for the first 4:28 of the quarter. In all, the Bulldogs did not score a basket for over seven minutes. Due to this, the game was essentially put away by Penn State in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions’ lead was 19 as Penn State shot 62 percent from beyond the arc.

The lead swelled to as much as 27 points as Penn State poured it on and continued to put pressure on Mississippi State. In the end, Penn State never relinquished the lead and moved on to face Utah in the Championship Game.

Penn State will face off against Utah in the NIT Championship Game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at The Garden.

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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for 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 writer Jason Cordner.
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