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National Invitation Tournament Semifinals Recap - Wichita State 75, Washington State 44

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The team that barely lost to Virginia Commonwealth in a late-February BracketBusters game is a team that will play basketball almost as long as this year’s Final Four darling. Indeed, while VCU gets ready for an April 2 date with destiny on college basketball’s biggest stage, Wichita State will play a game on March 31 and join its mid-major brother in an extended basketball campaign.

It’s really rather amazing when you think about it: Had Wichita State beaten VCU by a point instead of dropping a 68-67 decision to the Rams on February 18, the Shockers just might have had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team (though they naturally would have needed to make the final of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament). VCU could have been relegated to the NIT, and the wonderboys of Wichita could have made it into a play-in game. The history of college basketball could have been completely different. Yet, the course of events ran in a particular direction, but at least Wichita State has managed to play as long as possible under its given set of circumstances. There’s no better way to respond to an NIT invite than to win the tournament and build experience for the coming year. That’s what the kids from Kansas are doing, and it’s making up for their one-point loss to VCU nearly six weeks ago.

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The Shockers led by 17 points at the half and never trailed while dismantling Washington State in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The Shockers out-shot the Cougars 46.7 percent to 33.3 percent in the first half, and out-rebounded them 24-9 on their way to a 36-19 halftime bulge. Things only got worse from there for Wazzu, as Wichita State continued to extend its lead throughout the game, building a 35-point lead with less than four minutes remaining.

Wichita State defeated Nebraska at home, then traveled to the Atlantic Seaboard to defeat top-seed Virginia Tech – a team that thought it deserved an NCAA bid this year – and then returned home to defeat the College of Charleston to earn its trip to New York for the NIT semifinals. This breakthrough performance made the trip to the Big Apple worth the effort. The Shockers were led by Garrett Stutz off the bench with 24 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Toure’ Murry with 13 points, and Gabe Blair with 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Shockers hit 47.7 percent of their shots for the game to the Cougars’ 28.8 percent, and out-rebounded the Pac-10’s last NIT entrant 51 to 21, limiting Washington State to its second-lowest point total of the season.

Washington State finished its season with a 22-13 record; its lowest point total in a game prior to this one was 43 points scored at a loss to Oregon in February. No Cougar scored in double figures; the team was led by Casto with nine points and five rebounds. Reggie Moore chipped in with nine points, and Faisal Aden added eight points.

Wichita State will play the Alabama Crimson Tide in the NIT championship game on Thursday night.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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