Mississippi State University (25-11, 9-9 SEC) did not make the NCAA Tournament, but this did not discourage them from making a run at the National Invitational Tournament.
Their run to the semifinals of NIT was rewarded with a trip to New York City and the right to play in the most famous basketball arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. Junior Aric Holman, a forward from Owensboro, Kentucky, talked about how excited he is to play in the arena.
“It’s a great moment, and I’m very excited,” Holman said. “This will be something I can tell my nieces and nephews about and my future children.”
A lot of teams view the NIT as a consolation for not making the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Ben Howland said a big part of their success is thanks to getting his team to buy in and want to keep playing.
“You have to be pretty arrogant to look at the NIT as a consolation, in my opinion,” Howland said. “It is a great honor. I have been around long enough to know the history and tradition of the NIT, and having coached a couple other teams at different schools that went on to the NIT and used that as a springboard to the following year.”
MSU is the only SEC team still playing basketball in the postseason. Freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon, from Canton, said they are taking advantage of it because they are lucky to still be playing.
“We took that, and it’s helped us play harder,” Weatherspoon said. “A lot of players aren’t playing right now, and we could easily be sitting at home right now. We’re taking advantage of it.”
For such a young team, the postseason experience is important for their growth and will help them heading into the next year. The team does not have a senior on the roster, and Holman said they are still learning.
“We’re all still young and learning,” Holman said. “We’re doing all of this together. That makes it easier to make mistakes, because that’s what we’re supposed to do as a young team. It’s easy to learn from it when we’re all the same age.”
They will take on Pennsylvania State University (24-13, 9-9 Big Ten) in the semifinal. Penn State is led by sophomore guard Tony Carr who shot 41 percent from the field this season and 43 percent from beyond the three-point line this season. He is their leading scorer, averaging 19.1 points a game.
They also have sophomore forward Lamar Stevens who averages 15.1 points a game and is grabbing six rebounds a game.
“(Tony) Carr is an outstanding player and NBA prospect,” Howland said. “(Lamar) Stevens is really a heck of a player. No. 33, their senior shooter, is a really good offensive player. They have a good team, and obviously beat Ohio State twice, who is a really good team and speaks to how good they are.”
Tip-off is 8:30 p.m. and ESPN will broadcast the game.