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NIT Finals Preview

March 28, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments



NIT Finals Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

Tuesday night, the semifinals of the NIT were held at Madison Square Garden with two games that were as good as advertised. One came down to the final seconds, the other saw one team pull away in the closing minutes.

In the first game, Memphis got 32 points from DaJuan Wagner on a good shooting night (12 of 18 including 5 of 6 on three-pointers), but they needed to hold off the Temple Owls at the end to advance to the championship game with a 78-77 victory. The Tigers got a solid effort from Chris Massie as well (14 points and 13 rebounds, 10 offensive), while the Owls made it a close one without star point guard Lynn Greer. They had three chances in the final seconds, but each shot rolled off.

Both teams shot well from the field, they had just 10 turnovers each, but neither team did a good job of boxing out: the two teams combined for nearly as many offensive rebounds as defensive rebounds. Kevin Lyde and Ron Rollerson combined for just three defensive rebounds for the Owls, never a good sign for this team. Alex Wesby played a superb game, and Brian Polk played well, but the Owls just didn’t have enough.

The nightcap started with both teams wearing home white uniforms before Syracuse put on their road jerseys since South Carolina did not bring their road jerseys. In the end, the Gamecocks pulled away in the closing minutes for a 66-59 victory.

Aaron Lucas led a balanced attack for the Gamecocks, while Preston Shumpert not only struggled late after playing well for a while (he finished with 28 points), but he did not have much help, and that was the key. Kueth Duany had 15 points, but others did not support Shumpert as needed: DeShaun Williams had five points on 2 of 7 shooting and four turnovers, Hakim Warrick had four points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes after starring in their quarterfinal win, and James Thues had as many turnovers as assists. The Orangemen’s frontcourt did very little offensively, while Tony Kitchings and Ivan Howell were solid for the Gamecocks as they combined for 31 points and 18 rebounds.

The championship game will feature Memphis for the second straight season. The Tigers were thought by many to be one of the nation’s better teams back in the preseason, but few quality wins and a so-so finish led to their appearance in the NIT. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, had more modest preseason projections, as many figured they might be an NCAA bubble team and they lived up to that.

Both teams have made it this far playing well; neither has played an easy schedule and they have won by playing well, as opposed to getting opponents on bad nights for them. The Tigers certainly have a talent edge, but the Gamecocks have a slight experience edge. Both teams have had good backcourt play and have taken care of the ball to get this far, and their frontcourts have played well.

This is a tough game to call. If DaJuan Wagner has a good night shooting the ball, the inside game should open up for the Tigers more, but the Gamecocks are a good defensive team. Nonetheless, the Tigers got past a good defensive team in Temple in the semifinal and should have enough to take the NIT title home. Look for this to be a low-scoring, physical game, without a lot of transition basketball even though both teams are capable of playing that style.

Prediction: Memphis takes it in a close one, 68-65.

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