Mississippi State, LSU earn NIT bids

Published 8:22 pm Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mississippi State didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament, but it will still get a chance to play on.

The Bulldogs were selected to the 32-team field for the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday. They will host Nebraska (22-10) in a first-round game Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Mississippi State and Nebraska played each other in an exhibition game in Starkville in October, with the Cornhuskers winning 76-72. Their only other meeting was a 69-66 MSU victory in 1996.

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“We’re excited to be in the postseason. It’s a big step for us,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “Nebraska’s had some fine wins in their league. They’re an older group of guys, so they’ve been through a lot since we saw each other late in October.”

It’s the first time Mississippi State (22-11) is in the NIT — or any postseason tournament — since 2012. It had been on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament until back-to-back blowout losses to Tennessee and LSU to close out the regular season doomed those hopes. The Bulldogs rallied to reach the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to salvage their chances of reaching the Big Dance. Now they’ll try to reach the Big Apple ­— the NIT’s Final Four is in New York.

Mississippi State is a No. 4 seed in the NIT, and Nebraska No. 5. The winner of their game will play either top-seeded Baylor (18-14) or Wagner (23-9) in the second round.

Eight SEC teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament, leaving only two for the NIT. In addition to Mississippi State, LSU qualified for the consolation bracket.

LSU (17-14) will play Louisiana-Lafayette (27-6) Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, but not televised.

The in-state rivals have played each other 47 times — LSU leads the series 36-10 — but not since 2009, and only five times since World War II. ULL’s last win in the series was in 1944.

“The selection of LSU to this year’s NIT says a lot about the progression of our program,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “It is a step in a direction that will only continue to move this program forward. It is exciting to be a part of post season play in our first season at LSU. We look forward to the challenges ahead as we face Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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