While most of the country has been focused on the NCAA tournament, there have been some excellent games in the second round of the NIT.
The 32 teams that entered the tournament all wanted to end their season strong, in most cases to gain momentum heading into next year. However, only a few have been able to advance, with Sunday's winners joining Belmont and Louisiana Tech in the tourney's quarterfinals.
Three more spots in the final eight will be decided on Monday as each team attempts to gain a trip to the semifinals in New York City.
Of course, these teams must first get past the second round, which proved to be highly competitive. Here is a look at Day 3 of the second round at the NIT.
Day 3 Schedule/Results
|Clemson (3)||50-49||Illinois (2)|
|Minnesota (1)||63-55||Saint Mary's (4)|
|Missouri (2)||63-71||Southern Miss (3)|
Day 4 Schedule
|Time (ET)||Home||Away||TV||Live Stream|
|7 p.m.||Florida State (1)||Georgetown (4)||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|9 p.m.||SMU (1)||LSU (5)||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|11 p.m.||California (2)||Arkansas (3)||ESPN2||Watch ESPN|
You can view an updated bracket at NCAA.com.
Day 3 Results
Clemson 50, Illinois 49
Illinois got its first lead of the game with about two minutes remaining, but the squad could not hold on as a Rod Hall layup with 10 seconds left proved to be the game-winning shot for Clemson.
The Tigers were playing at home while Illinois' home court undergoes construction for next season, and they made it count. While there was not a lot of offense for either team in this slow-paced game, the home team found a way to score in the paint:
In the NIT, Clemson advanced past Illinois thanks in part to their ability to convert chances in the paint: pic.twitter.com/5fbVbWry4D— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 23, 2014
This is a good thing since the two squads combined to go 5-of-32 from three-point range.
Tigers leading-scorer K.J. McDaniels was held to just 12 points in the win, but he got help from Landry Nnoko in the form of 11 points, and the two combined for seven blocks on the defensive end.
Still, Illinois was able to keep it close throughout the game thanks in part to 15 points from Rayvonte Rice. Jon Ekey was then able to give the Illini the lead at 49-48 with a three-point shot with 2:07 remaining.
Unfortunately, this lead did not last long as Hall scored the eventual game-winner a few possessions later. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell discussed the final offensive play, via The Times and Democrat:
We really played well in the last three or four plays of the game. We told our guys if we get the stop, then we had a play called. But then we thought if we get a rebound and have an open court, then go play and trust Rod to go make a good decision. He got to the rim and scored and we called a timeout to set up our defense and then had a really good last stop on the last possession of the game.
Illinois guard Tracy Abrams had a shot to win it, but he missed on his three-pointer, capping a disastrous 2-of-14 day from the field.
Despite the loss, Illinois has plenty of reason to be encouraged heading into next season, as noted by Brad Evans of Yahoo! Sports:
Unfortunate ending to an encouraging finish for Illinois. Future, though, blindingly bright. Illini will be most improved B1G team in '15.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) March 23, 2014
On the other hand, Clemson will continue its run toward an NIT title with another home match against Belmont. While the Bruins have been playing well recently, the size and athleticism gives the Tigers a huge advantage.
If Clemson continues to play defense at a high level, it has a chance to go all the way to the championship.
Minnesota 63, Saint Mary's 55
Stephen Holt carried Saint Mary's with 24 points on the day, but it was not enough as Minnesota escaped with a 63-55 home win.
Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press notes that the game did not start as well as Minnesota could have hoped:
Stephen Holt jumper makes it 14-0. That's right. #Gophers men probably wish this game was after the women maybe?— Marcus R. Fuller (@GophersNow) March 23, 2014
However, the Golden Gophers battled back strong from the 14-0 deficit to pull it to 26-22 at halftime. They kept at it and took over the lead in the second half, stretching it to eight points on Andre Hollins' three-point shot with just over eight minutes remaining.
Amazingly, that was the only field goal of the game for Hollins, who finished with just five points. Instead, it was Joey King who took over for Minnesota with 18 points in the win, including a key three late:
The home team also got a big contribution on the defensive end from Elliot Eliason, who had eight rebounds and seven blocks in the win. The Gophers were then able to make its free throws to keep ahead of the Gaels and secure the eight-point victory in the NIT second round.
They will move on to face the winner of Southern Miss and Missouri. Considering the No. 1 seed will once again be playing at home, they have a strong chance to get another win as they look to play their way into the semifinals.
Southern Miss 71, Missouri 63
Missouri shot the ball extremely well from the outside, but once again defense was a problem for the Tigers as Southern Miss was able to put up enough points to get the road win.
Michael Craig had a huge performance off the bench for the Golden Eagles, totaling 12 points and 10 rebounds in the win. He was helped by a great all-around effort by Neil Watson, who finished with 18 points, seven assists and two steals.
On the other side, Missouri guard Earnest Ross scored 22 while going 4-of-7 from three-point range. However, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson combined to go 8-of-26 from the field to come up short at home.
The first half featured a number of big plays, but Southern Miss got off enough good shots to ensure a five-point lead at halftime. At this point, Jason Munz of the Hattiesburg American points out two streaks that were in jeopardy:
Southern Miss 22-0 when leading at halftime. Mizzou hasn't lost a non-conference home game in almost a decade. #somethingsgottagive— Jason Munz (@munzly) March 23, 2014
It turns out Missouri was the one to give in as the Golden Eagles found open shots and then got plenty of offensive rebounds when they missed. Mizzou was able to cut the lead to five with two minutes remaining, but clutch free throws helped secure the win for the road team.
Southern Miss will now go on the road again to face Minnesota in the regional final. Patrick Magee of the Sun Herald points out that the squad has looked good to this point:
Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss looking like the two best teams in the NIT so far.— Patrick Magee (@Patrick_Magee) March 23, 2014
Earning another road win against a team clearly playing well could be difficult, but the Eagles have a chance to pull it off.
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