(Sports Network) — Madison Square Garden is the site of tonight’s NIT Championship Game between the Wichita State Shockers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
A four-seed, Wichita State has won 28 games this season, the most in the history of the program. The Shockers were completely dominant in Tuesday’s semifinal round, crushing a strong Washington State team by a 75-44 final in a game that was never close. Wichita State is making its second consecutive NIT appearance and is just 7-11 all-time in the event despite this season’s success. The club has never captured the crown, and a victory tonight would not only be a huge accomplishment for the program but one for the Missouri Valley Conference as well.
As for Alabama, a top-seed in this tournament, it faced another one of the top seeds, Colorado, in a highly-competitive semifinal game on Tuesday. In dramatic fashion, the Crimson Tide escaped with a 62-61 victory, their first- ever NIT win in Madison Square Garden. They are now 25-11 overall and were shunned by the NCAA Tournament selection committee despite a first-place finish in the SEC’s Western Division. Alabama is 21-13 all-time in NIT play and lost its only previous appearance in the event’s title game to Tulsa back in 2001.
The Crimson Tide own a 2-1 series edge over the Shockers, and the most recent meeting took place during the 1997-98 season.
Wichita State junior center Garrett Stutz picked the ideal time to play the best game of his career. Against Washington State on Tuesday, Stutz connected on 10-of-13 shots from the floor in a reserve role, finishing with a career- high 24 points and a season-best 11 rebounds. Toure’ Murry netted 13 points, and Gabe Blair finished with 10. The Shockers came away with a season-high 52 rebounds, securing more than twice as many caroms as the Cougars. Also worthy of mention is the fact that Wichita State held Washington State to 29.4 percent shooting from the field. Through 36 outings, the Shockers are generating 72.9 ppg while limiting opponents to 61.8 ppg on 40.9 percent shooting from the field. The only double-digit scorer on the roster is J.T. Durley with 11.2 ppg, but the club is outrebounding foes by 8.4 rpg and gets contributions from several individuals.
Freshman point guard Trevor Releford was the hero for Alabama in the semifinal win over Colorado, as he hit a layup with 13 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference. Releford scored 13 points in the affair and handed out six assists, while standout teammate JaMychal Green netted a game-high 22 points before fouling out. Alabama shot a solid 50 percent from the field in the tilt while limiting Colorado to 40 percent field goal efficiency, and the Tide also forced 16 turnovers. Those two positives helped coach Anthony Grant’s team overcome a 13-4 deficit in points from the foul line, as ‘Bama was just 4- of-11 from the charity stripe on the night. One of the SEC’s best frontcourt performers, Green is averaging 15.6 ppg this season to go along with 7.6 rpg. Tony Mitchell is close behind with 15.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg, while Releford contributes 11.1 ppg. The Crimson Tide are generating 67.1 ppg while holding opponents to 59.2 ppg on 38.3 percent field goal efficiency, as strong defense has been the key to the club’s success.