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NIT Journal, Thursday

   by Larry Ness - 03/31/2016

NIT Journal (Championship Game)

Valparaiso led BYU 44-30 at the half on Tuesday and by 16 points in the very early going of the second half but the Cougars took their first lead of the game with 4:26 to play, 64-63. It was nip and tuck the rest of the way but Valpo broke a 68-all tie on a three-pointer with 20 seconds left and held on for a 72-70 win. In Tuesday’s nightcap, George Washington crushed San Diego St 65-46, as the offensively-challenged Aztecs shot just 28.8 from the floor, including a WOEFUL 3 of 22 on three-pointers. Valpo’s 30-6 and the Crusaders have already set a school record with 30 victories while the 27-10 Colonials have matched the school mark with for wins. One team is going to emerge with the first NIT championship in school history on Thursday.

Valparaiso was able to stay at home in the early rounds, ‘holding serve’ with three consecutive double-digit wins on its way to the NIT’s Final 4. Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew said his squad has moved past the NCAA Tournament snub (Crusaders were one of four No. 1 NIT seeds) and it has appeared that way. "It's a huge step for our program," Drew said at Wednesday's press conference. "To be able to play this deep into March, only a few teams left in the country, getting the exposure on ESPN, and getting to play in Madison Square Garden, I think our fan base and our university and our alumni and everyone is just really excited about what's happened the last few weeks." George Washington came in as a 4-seed and needed to win at Monmouth, a No. 1 seed and like Valpo an NCAA snub, plus beat Florida a No. 2 seed at home to reach NYC. The Colonials then took apart a 28-win SD St team on Tuesday.

Valpo is led by junior forward Alec Peters (18.4-8.4), who has averaged 22.3 & 8.2 in the team’s four NIT wins. PG Carter (10.3-4.4 APG) is the only other double digit scorer but the Crusaders own excellent depth with three others averaging between 8.1 and 9.0 PPG plus four more adding between 4.4 and 6.7 PPG. That last group includes David Skara, who knocked down the tiebreaking three-pointer, blocked a last-second three-point attempt by BYU guard Chase Fischer and scored a season-best 15 points on Tuesday, plus the 6-10 Vashil Fernandez (7.3 RPG, as well as a school-record 284 career blocks!).

GW’s 6-9 Tyler Cavanaugh (16.9-7.6), a 6-9 Wake Forest transfer, has reached 20-plus points in all for NIT wins, averaging 21.3 & 9.3. He joined a team at the start of the season with three, four-year senior starters, two of whom are guard Garino (14.1) and the 6-10 Larsen (12.1-8.4). The Colonials are well aware that Valpo has held opponents to 38.3 percent FG shooting (3rd-best) and 62.4 PPG (9th) on the season but head coach Mike Lonergan says his squad has refocused. "Obviously, we would have rather made the NCAA Tournament but this really adds to the legacy of our seniors and that's what I really feel good about," he said Wednesday. "Getting to New York was probably what we really needed to do, for me, to have a good summer."

Tune in for the 7:00 ET tip on ESPN. Valpo is favored by 2 1/2 points.

My Final Four journal will be available Friday by 12 noon ET.

Good luck...Larry

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