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Mississippi State’s First Round NIT Win is Proof of Major Improvement Since October

Mississippi State began the season with a 72-76 exhibition loss at home to Nebraska. Last night, Mississippi State won in the NIT against this same Nebraska Squad 66-59.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

October 22, 2017

Mississippi State was set to host Nebraska in an exhibition game to benefit Hurricane Irma victims. The Bulldogs had added talented 5* player Nick Weatherspoon and returned the majority of their 2017 squad. Expectations had risen for Ben Howland who has a reputation of making a big statement in year 3. But when it came set to game time, Mississippi State looked like a group of individuals playing against an expereienced Big Ten team. The halftime score reflected just that with STate trailing 48-32. Mississippi State did make a late 2nd half run, but ultimately Nebraska won the meaningless contest. Following the game, Howland had this to say about the contest: “There were several bright spots. This will be a great opportunity for our team to grow.”

And while it was a slow growing process, you could certainly see the transition of Mississippi State from a group of talented individuals, to a team wanting to make a statement in the Southeastern Conference. And by February, this was one of the funnest squads to watch in the country. Ultimately State fell a little short of their big goal, but this squad did meet the expectations of most State fans: Postseason Play. Playing in the NIT is almost like playing in a bowl game for football. No you are not in the playoff, but the extra practices give you the opportunity to setup success for next year. But also, you get an extra opportunity to win. And the NIT is unique in the sense that you are playing teams all on the same caliber that came as close as you did to making the NCAA Tournament. If you make a statement in the NIT, you can turn that into a successful immediate future. And I wrote yesterday about 4 specific Mississippi State NIT runs that led to NCAA Tournaments and Conference Titles.

Mississippi State Defeats Nebraska 66-59

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Nebraska vs Michigan Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2010, Mississippi State has advanced to the second round of the NIT. State won thanks in large part to a big 1st quarter in which State outscored Nebraska 19-12. Aric Holman had a double double and also led the team in points(16) and rebounds(10). The one shocking stat of the night is that Lamar Peters finished with 0 points. But he made a huge impact in the game with his 14 assists which is a career high for the sophmore. In all, 3 Bulldogs finished in double figures with two more being within 2 points.

The biggest stat in my mind, is that Mississippi State out-rebounded Nebraska 47-30 which included 16 offensive rebounds for State. State led for most of the game, but Nebraska made it close all night. In the end, Mississippi State’s incredible defense wore out the Cornhuskers and sent the NCAA Bubble team to an early postseason exit.

Looking at the NIT Bracket, Middle Tennessee, Louisville, and Baylor all won their opening round games. Which means Mississippi State will not host anymore NIT games with all 3 of those teams being seeded higher than MSU. State finishes the season 19-2 in the Humphrey Coliseum which is a record for most home wins for MSU. Up next for Mississippi State, they will travel to Waco, Texas to face the #1 seeded Baylor Bears. Baylor has won 14 games in the Ferrell Center this season, which includes wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. They opened the NIT defeating 8 seeded Wagner 80-59. The winner of this game will certainly be the favorite to make it to Madison Square Garden. The game tips off Sunday at 11 am on ESPN.