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Without a postseason last year, just the chance to extend the season has been beneficial for North Carolina State and Colorado State.
One of them gets to play a bit longer after they meet in the NIT quarterfinals on Thursday night in Frisco, Texas.
"I've learned so much from these guys through the pandemic and the injuries than I've ever learned in my life coaching," NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. "If you're still learning, a guy like me that's been around for a while, that's a positive thing."
NC State has been off a week since last Thursday's 75-61 victory against Davidson in the first round. The next night, Colorado State topped Buffalo 75-73 on guard Isaiah Stevens' basket with 1.2 seconds to play.
This is meaningful to have delayed entering the offseason.
"The best teams play in March late into the season," Stevens said. "Being able to pull out a win was definitely big for us and our program."
Colorado State (19-6) is aiming to reach the 20-win mark for the second season in a row following a pair of seasons with 20 or more losses. Rams coach Niko Medved, now in his third season with Colorado State, engineered the turnaround. The Rams won a 2017 NIT game before losing in the second round.
Coming from a state with rich college basketball history, NC State is the only men's team from North Carolina still competing in the postseason. No other men's team from the state even won a game last week.
"Most programs have gone home. We're still playing," Keatts said. "The extra practices that we get, the extra opportunities that I get to teach these guys. It's always a teaching moment. In this situation with our young guys, I get a chance to talk to them about how to finish games and how to start games, how to play in the middle of games."
NC State (14-10) shot a season-best 58.8 percent from the field in the Davidson game, with D.J. Funderburk and Manny Bates dominating in the post for a combined 15-for-17.
The NIT is providing some sturdy competition.
"Colorado State is a No. 1 seed (in the NIT bracket), and they were right on the cutline to make the NCAA Tournament," Keatts said.
Extending the season a few more days would be a perk.
"Even though it's been a long year and a challenging year, it's great that we were able to play in some postseason tournament," Keatts said. "Our guys right now, they don't know the difference."
This is the first NC State-Colorado State meeting. The Rams are 3-10 all-time against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Colorado State tries to reach .500 in NIT games, holding an 8-9 mark.
The winner takes on the Boise State-Memphis winner in the semifinals.
--Field Level Media