No. 19 WVU, Temple meet in NIT Tip-off final
More than eight months ago, No. 19 West Virginia and Temple experienced disappointing results on a bigger stage at Barclays Center.
On Friday, the Mountaineers and Owls will meet for a championship when they face each other in the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York.
Last season, the home of the Brooklyn Nets hosted the second and third round of the NCAA Tournament, and both schools experienced different kinds of frustration in elimination games played before sellout crowds.
West Virginia, the No. 3 seed in the East Region, committed 22 turnovers in a 14-point loss to Stephen F. Austin. Temple, the No. 10 seed in the South Region, lost in overtime on a last-second shot to Iowa.
On Thursday, both schools reversed course from their NCAA Tournament disappointments.
West Virginia used a smothering full-court pressure defense and forced 24 turnovers in an 89-57 rout of Illinois. The Mountaineers scored 34 points off turnovers, and in their first four games, opponents are averaging a staggering 26.3 giveaways.
“We were flying around pretty good there for a good stretch of the game, and we're pretty deep, so we keep bringing guys in,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We wear on people, and when you get tired, you don't do things as fundamentally good.”
Nathan Adrian had 13 points and eight rebounds despite early foul trouble, and Jevon Carter made six steals to go along with 10 points and five assists for the Mountaineers, who held a 19-point lead at halftime.
“That's the key for us all the time,” Huggins said. “When you extend the floor the way we extend the floor and take the chances we take, you better come up with some (steals) or else it's going to be a long night for us instead of them.”
Similar to its disappointing loss to Iowa in March, Temple was involved in a dramatic contest, and this time it went in the Owls' favor. Temple (3-2) trailed by 18 early in the second half and by 12 with about 9 1/2 minutes remaining before pulling out a dramatic 89-86 win over No. 25 Florida State.
“We were down 18 because of how good they were, but we found a way to win the game some way,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
Freshman Quinton Ross scored 26 points and Shizz Alston Jr. added 22. Ross hit the game-clinching free throws in the waning seconds and also rebounded the miss of a potential go-ahead shot by Florida State's Jonathan Isaac with 1.5 seconds left.
“We're on a big stage, we're not going out like this,” Alston said. “We want to fight back.”
Both teams are appearing in the championship game of the tournament, which began in 1985, for the first time. The schools have not met since West Virginia's 82-52 rout in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The programs met every season from 1981 to 1995 as members of the Atlantic 10 Conference.