Wisconsin, North Texas clash for spot in NIT championship
One team will clinch its first-ever berth in the NIT championship game when second-seeded Wisconsin tangles with second-seeded North Texas in the semifinals on Tuesday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Both programs secured their first appearance in the NIT semifinals by eking out road wins over top-seeded opponents last Tuesday.
The Badgers (20-14) rallied past Oregon 61-58 in Eugene, while the Mean Green (29-7) outlasted Oklahoma State in overtime, 65-59, in Stillwater.
Close games have been a staple of Wisconsin's season, as they've played in an NCAA-leading 20 contests decided by five points are fewer. The Badgers are 13-7 in such games.
"This group has been through a lot this year, and there's been a lot of rocky times," coach Greg Gard said. "But one thing they've never done is flinch or quit."
Steven Crowl (12.2 points per game), Chucky Hepburn (12.1), Connor Essegian (11.7) and Tyler Wahl (11.3) all contribute double-figures for Wisconsin, which has had a different leading scorer in each game throughout its tournament run.
First, it was the 7-footer Crowl, who torched Bradley for a career-high 36 points in the Badgers' first-round win.
Hepburn followed with a career-best 27 points to dispatch Liberty in Round 2 before Max Klesmit supplied 18 to lead Wisconsin past Oregon.
North Texas, meanwhile, hasn't had as much scoring variety during the tournament, but there's little need for such when senior guard Tylor Perry's on the floor. The Conference USA Player of the Year is averaging 22.3 points per game throughout the NIT and has been the Mean Green's top scorer in all three contests.
Playing against the Cowboys in his home state, Perry poured in 23 points, including the 1,000th of his career, and buried a 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining in overtime that gave North Texas the lead for good.
"(He's) the heart of our team," coach Grant McCasland said of Perry. "I could have done a way better job of helping him, but, man, did he make big baskets."
While Perry will be the go-to scorer against the Badgers, the Mean Green will look to control the rebounding game without their top board-getter, Abou Ousmane (6.0 rebounds per game), who will miss Tuesday's game as he attends to a family situation.
Against Oklahoma State, Moulaye Sissoko gobbled up a career-high 15 rebounds en route to his first career double-double.
Tuesday's showdown is the first all-time meeting between the programs. The winner will face either UAB (28-9) or Utah Valley (28-8) for the NIT title on Thursday.
--Field Level Media
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