One quarter of the NIT field was comprised of Atlantic Ten teams. The nation’s oldest post season tournament was scaled down to a 16 team field this season. All games were set to be contested in Texas. Representing the conference was Davidson, Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis, Following the first round, only Richmond advanced.
The Spiders faced Toledo minus their top scorers, Blake Francis (hip injury) and Grant Golden (fractured finger). They trailed by as much as eleven in the first half and five at the break.
The second half was all Richmond. Chris Mooney’s group locked in on defense. Richmond held the Rockets to 28% shooting the final twenty minutes. Richmond ‘won’ the second half convincingly 44-28 en route to a 76-66 decision.
On the offensive side Tyler Burton and Jacob Gilyard paced Richmond with 18 points each. Nathan Cayo added 15. Gilyard also added a game high 5 assists and in the process broke the school assist record formerly held by Greg Beckwith.
For Richmond it will be their fourteen appearance in the NIT quarterfinals and third under the guidance of Mooney. The Spiders face Mississippi State on Thursday.
Davidson dropped a 75-61 contest to NC State. The hot shooting Wolfpack led 40-32 at the break. The Wildcats cut the deficit to four (40-36) early in the second half. NC State regrouped and was never threatened after that point. NC State, paced by DJ Funderbunk’s 21 points, shot 59% on the night while Bob McKillp’s Wildcats struggled at 44%. Davidson had four in double figures. Luke Brajkovic led the way with 15 points. Kellen Grady scored 11 but became the sixth player in Davidson history to hit the 2,000 point mark. Hyunjung Lee added 13 and became the 11th player since 1993 to finish the year shooting at least 50% overall, 40% from three and 90% from the line. Davidson finished 13-9 but did make their 9th NIT appearance in school history.
Dayton faced top seed Memphis on Saturday. The Flyers, with a strong NIT history, fell to the Tigers 71-60. Memphis captured the 2002 NIT while Dayton’s most recent championship was in 2010.
The game had fourteen lead changes before Memphis pulled away in the final six minutes. Dayton shot well enough from the floor connecting on 25 of 50 for a 50% mark. The tell tale statistic was rebounding. The Flyers were handled under the glass to a tune of 44-26. Memphis pulled down 17 offensive boards leading to 12 second chance points- a major factor in a three possession outcome.
Elijah Weaver came off the bench to lead the Flyers with 16 points. Dayton standout Jalen Crtucher struggled going 3 of 10 from the floor for six points. The Flyers ended the season with a 14-10 mark.
Also on Saturday, Saint Louis, another program with a rich NIT tradition, dropped a 74-68 decision to Mississippi State. Travis Ford’s Billikens wrapped up a most difficult season, pauses and all, at 14-7.
Mississippi State led 33-26 at the half. Saint Louis turned up the defensive pressure to come back and take a one point lead with just over 12 minutes to play. The Bulldogs of the SEC regained the lead and never looked back.
Javonte Perkins paced the Billikens with 21 points. Seniors Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin also turned in strong outings in what may be their last outing in Saint Louis blue. Hasahn French posted a 17 point 10 rebound double-double. Goodwin was a veritable stat stuffer with a 14 point, 6 rebound, 6 assist and 6 steal performance.
Saint Louis forced the Bulldogs into 18 turnovers. Mississippi State offset their struggles of caring for the ball by winning the battle of the boards. Normally a strong rebounding team, the Billikens were edged in that category by a 35-32 count.
Richmond faces Mississippi State in the tournament quarterfinals. Richmond last reached the quarterfinals of the NIT in 2017. The Spiders were defeated at TCU, the eventual tournament champion.
Mississippi State advanced to the NIT ‘Final Four’ in 2018. The Bulldogs were eliminated by Penn State, who also went on to claim the championship.