Wichita State takes NIT crown
MVP Hatch hits all four shots from 3 to pace Shockers
NEW YORK -- The only shocker about the end to Wichita State's season was the location.
J.T. Durley and Graham Hatch scored 12 points each to lead a balanced offense, and the Shockers overwhelmed top-seeded Alabama 66-57 on Thursday night to win the NIT championship at Madison Square Garden.
Hatch was 4 for 4 from beyond the arc, including back-to-back baskets in the closing minutes, as Wichita State (29-8) finished a remarkable postseason run in style.
After getting left out of the NCAA tournament - and after hardly any critics argued on their behalf - the Shockers left little doubt they should have been selected. They beat Nebraska by 27 points, won at Virginia Tech, beat College of Charleston, then set a school record for wins in a season with a 75-44 romp against Washington State in the semifinals.
They added one more victory against the Crimson Tide.
Tony Mitchell had 13 points and 12 rebounds to lead Alabama (25-12), which lost for the second time in two trips to the NIT title game. Leading scorer JaMychal Green struggled with foul trouble and finished with 12 points, and Trevor Releford and Charvez Davis had 10 each.
Alabama briefly pulled ahead in the second half on a free throw by Chris Hines with 15:06 left, but Wichita State answered with eight consecutive points to regain control. The lead never fell below five the rest of the way.
Any doubt about the outcome was officially erased when Hatch hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:13 remaining that extended the lead to 61-52. On the Shockers' next possession, he set up from the exact spot and knocked down another 3-pointer.
The two clutch shots helped Hatch earn the tournament MVP award.
Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant will head home to watch his former team, VCU, play for its own championship now. The Rams face Butler in the Final Four on Saturday.
When the clock finally ticked down to zero at the Garden, the entire Wichita State team sprinted off the bench and jumped together in a corner of the floor, while a large contingent of yellow-clad fans who made their way from Kansas cheered on their feet.
Sure, both teams hoped to make the NCAA tournament, but they certainly took advantage of a chance to keep playing through March. They both brought pep bands and cheerleaders, along with a couple thousand fans, despite visiting arguably the most expensive city in the country.
They were loud throughout, too, with dueling chants of "Go Shockers" and "Roll Tide."
The two teams sure played as if they belonged in the other, more prestigious postseason tournament in the first half. They combined to shoot 50 percent from the field, made all 14 of their combined foul shots and played well enough on defense to force 18 turnovers.
Wichita State managed a 37-34 lead largely because it got the pace going in its favor. The Crimson Tide came in allowing just more than 59 points per game, eighth-best in the nation, while the Shockers are 15-0 the past three-plus seasons under coach Gregg Marshall when they score 80 points.
They didn't get there this time. It turned out they didn't need to.
Wichita State returned four starters from the team that lost in the NIT last season, and was the class of the Missouri Valley Conference for much of the season. The Shockers wound up losing to eventual champion Indiana State in the league tournament, though, and a down year for the conference hurt their chances of an at-large NCAA tournament bid -- despite playing a pair of Final Four teams down to the wire earlier in the season.
Wichita State led Connecticut for about 37 minutes at the Maui Invitational, then lost to VCU on a last-second free throw in a Bracketbusters game. The Shockers also lost a tough game to San Diego State, which earned a No. 2 seed to the NCAA tournament.