Blogging the Lesser Tournaments V: The Championships Before the Championship

Richmond, VA, Monday: Saint Louis had a 13-12 lead with about eight minutes left in the first half, but then Virginia Commonwealth hit three straight three-pointers and didn’t look back. The Rams had the lead 36-25 at the half, but the Billikens managed to cut the deficit to three in the first five minutes of the second. Then Virginia Commonwealth basically iced the game with a 14-4 run spearheaded by Joey Rodriguez, taking the first game of the CBI Championship Series. Saint Louis 56, Virginia Commonwealth 68.

New York, NY, Tuesday: What could be the last NIT semifinals had two games worthy of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Dayton led 34-30 at the half and pushed it to 64-58 with three minutes left on technical free throws before Ole Miss started to come back, cutting the deficit to 64-62 with 64 seconds left. With 35.8 seconds left, Murphy Holloway went to the line with a chance to tie, but bricked the second free throw; London Warren hit one of two with 23.7 seconds left to put the lead back at two; Trevor Gaskins missed a layup, and Chris Johnson hit two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 11 seconds left; Warren knocked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing Rebel possession, and Johnson stole the inbounds pass, knocking down one of two free throws to send Dayton to the championship game, hoping to send a message after a disappointing season. Dayton 68, Mississippi 63.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is the NIT’s Butler, and might not have been that far off from Butler’s seed. But it certainly took them everything they had to knock off Rhode Island. The score was knotted 30-30 at halftime, and after Rhode Island took a 59-54 lead with 1:47 to play, UNC scored the next five points to knot it at 59-59. URI’s Delroy James whiffed on two free throws with 28.6 seconds left in regulation, and Larry Drew let the clock run down to six seconds before taking an ill-advised shot. Late in the extra session with UNC leading 68-67, Drew forced up a shot with five seconds left, beating the shot clock buzzer. Lamonte Ulmer picked up the rebound but lost control before getting off a shot before the buzzer sounded, leading Rhode Island coach Jim Baron to suggest a foul should have been called. North Carolina 68, Rhode Island 67 (OT).

Springfield, MO, Tuesday: Pacific led 35-29 after one and 50-44 with 11 minutes left, but Missouri State went on an 11-0 run in the next two minutes, taking a 55-50 lead. From there it was simply protecting it. Pacific went on a 5-2 run in the two minutes after that, but Missouri State locked down the game for good with a 12-4 run over the next five minutes, leading 69-59 with 2:19 to play. Pacific’s second half play was plagued by turnovers and fouls as five Bears scored in double figures, including 16 points from Caleb Patterson, who had played a total of 27 minutes the rest of the tournament. Pacific 65, Missouri State 78.

St. Louis, MO, Wednesday: Saint Louis scored the first nine points and overcame a 20-16 deficit to lead 33-24 at the break, but a high-scoring second half saw the game tied at 61 with 3:04 to play. From there, the Billikens’ youth caught up to them, as Virginia Commonwealth went on a 10-4 run to become the first team to sweep the CBI Championship Series. Virginia Commonwealth 71, Saint Louis 65.

New York, NY, Thursday: Could the NIT final – possibly the last game in NIT history – provide as much excitement as the semis? Dayton led 45-32 at the break, but North Carolina played them tight in the second half, starting on a 12-1 run in the first three and a half minutes before Dayton recovered. Marcus Ginyard missed a potential game-tying layup, leading to a Paul Williams 3 that put Dayton up 62-57 with 7:46 to play. UNC managed to cut the deficit to 67-63 with 3:37 left, but Chris Johnson hit a 3 and a dunk that put the Flyers up 72-63 with 2:50 left. North Carolina cut the deficit to 68-73 with 1:14 to play, but wouldn’t score the rest of the way. North Carolina 68, Dayton 79.

Congratulations to Missouri State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Dayton. Had North Carolina won, the season might end with UNC and Duke each holding postseason titles. Instead, mid-majors could hold all four postseason titles. That’s the norm for three of the four, but Butler’s trying to do something that hasn’t been done since UNLV two decades ago.

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