Mississippi State faces top seed St. Louis in NIT opener

·2 min read

Plenty of teams declined invitations to play in this year's National Invitation Tournament.

Not Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs (15-14), whose roster includes 13 underclassmen and only two seniors, seized the opportunity to add at least one more game to their schedule. Mississippi State, a No. 4 seed, will take on No. 1-seed Saint Louis (14-6) on Saturday in a NIT first-round game in Frisco, Tex.

The winner will play No. 2-seed Richmond (14-8) in the second round on Thursday.

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland hopes the experience could be a steppingstone toward bigger things as it was for the Bulldogs the last time they were in the NIT at the end of the 2017-18 season. Mississippi State reached the NIT semifinals and then made the NCAA Tournament the following season.

"I was excited, honestly," Howland said. "We are a young team. Any time you can get some postseason experience, I think it helps kids."

The Bulldogs will make their 10th NIT appearance and will face Saint Louis for the first time since the 2014-15 season when they won 75-50. The teams will meet for the third time, having split the first two games.

Saint Louis will make its 19th appearance in the NIT and first since 2004. The Billikens were eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament by conference champion St. Bonaventure in the semifinals last week.

Saint Louis ended up one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament field.

"If you still go by the numbers, we should have been in," St. Louis coach Travis Ford said. "There's no question. One of the messages the NCAA committee sent is they don't care about how hard you schedule. That used to be a big thing. But there's a couple teams that got in that scheduled no one nonconference."

Saint Louis gets most of its offensive production from forward Javonte Perkins (17 points per game) and guard Jordan Goodwin (14.5 points). Yuri Collins' 6.2 assists per game ranked ninth among Division I players during the season.

Mississippi State's last game was an 85-48 blowout loss in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals to conference champion Alabama.

Iverson Molinar (16.6 points) leads Mississippi State in scoring while Tolu Smith (12.7 points, 8.5 rebounds) is another main offensive contributor.

--Field Level Media