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NIT – Day In Review

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Kent State 72, Fairfield 68

One week ago, the Kent State Golden Flashes couldn’t have entertained very high hopes that they’d make a deep run in the National Invitation Tournament. Yet, after two trips to distinctively different parts of the United States, they’re one win away from booking a plane flight to the largest city in the country: New York.

Randal Holt oured in 22 points while teammate Carlton Guyton threw down 16 of his own, as the seventh seed in this NIT subregional knocked off the sixth-seeded Fairfield Stags at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Kent State’s balanced attack enabled the regular-season Mid-American Conference champion to power past the champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference on Sunday afternoon. As a result, Kent’s kids earned a spot in the NIT quarterfinals. The Golden Flash will continue their criss-cross of the United States on Tuesday night.

Kent State had to fly out to California last Tuesday and play Saint Mary’s in an NIT first-round game. A stunning last-minute rally carried coach Geno Ford’s KSU crew past the second-seeded Gaels and into this round. Fairfield, as the sixth seed, backdoored its way into a home game for this second-rounder as the unexpected higher seed in the matchup. Kent could have stayed in the west if Colorado State had dispatched Fairfield, but the Stags’ own road win forced Kent to make the trek to the Nutmeg State. Now, the road warriors of the NIT must go back to the Western United States. The Golden Flashes, far from their home base in the state of Ohio, will play top seed Colorado on Tuesday night.

This game represents an exhilarating triumph for Kent, but it also stands as a painful setback for Fairfield and coach Ed Cooley. Playing a game at home was an unexpected bonus and a chance for this school to wipe away the taste of a stunning home-court loss to St. Peter’s in the MAAC Tournament semifinals. Instead, the Stags staggered and failed to reach the finish line first.

After struggling manifestly in his previous two games, Fairfield star Derek Needham hit 7 of 11 shots in the first half for 18 points, but he scored only two more points after the break as Fairfield lost steam. Needham couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch, while Kent’s Justin Greene scored a crucial layup with 1:41 left that put KSU in front by a 68-64 score. Needham fouled on Fordham’s next trip down the floor, and Holt nailed two foul shots with 45 seconds to go to finish off the Stags.

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Wichita State 78, Virginia Tech 76 (OT)

The Wichita State Shockers are not just one game away from making the NIT’s final four. The boys from Kansas will play their NIT quarterfinal on home hardwood.

Yes, there’s another home game in Wichita State’s future. Coach Gregg Marshall’s club used a great deal of poise down the stretch to outlast the Virginia Tech Hokies at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. While Virginia Tech owned home-court advantage through the NIT quarterfinals as the top seed in its subregional, the Hokies and coach Seth Greenberg once again failed to reach New York City. Virginia Tech was saddled with injuries this year – several players were either knocked out of commission or played well below 80 percent (let alone 100 percent) – but just the same, the Hokies failed to gain a measure of satisfaction after being snubbed for the NCAA Tournament.

What really hurt Virginia Tech – and helped Wichita State – was the poor decision making of Hokie big man Jeff Allen. Always foul-prone and rarely able to make good decisions in the low post, Allen fouled out with over six minutes left in regulation. Yes, Virginia Tech fought back from a 63-57 deficit in the final three and a half minutes of competition, but in overtime, Allen’s absence wound up being the game’s most important determining factor. Wichita State patiently and maturely entered the ball to big man Garrett Stutz, who repeatedly scored over the top of a smaller and less seasoned backup center for the Hokies. This is what put Wichita State in a winning position at the end of overtime.

Then Joe Ragland took over.

WSU’s point guard raced downcourt just after Virginia Tech tied the score on a Terrell Bell layup with nine seconds left in the extra period. Ragland juked one defender at the top of the key, made a brilliant spin move near the foul line to leave another Hokie in the dust, and then exploded to the hoop before kissing the ball off the window for the game-winning layup with 2.6 seconds left. Virginia Tech was not able to get a shot off on the game’s final sequence, and Wichita – by virtue of the College of Charleston’s upset of second-seeded Cleveland State – earned a home game in the NIT quarterfinals. The Shockers, as the fourth seed in their subregional, gained the right to host the sixth-seeded C of C. The game tips off on Tuesday night at the Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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