FACTS & STATS: Site: Mabee Center (10,575) -- Tulsa, Oklahoma. Television: ESPN3.com. NIT Record: Nevada 3-4, Oral Roberts 2-7. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Two of the more successful teams at the Division I level this season find themselves competing against each other in the first round of the 75th annual NIT tonight, as the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts entertain the Nevada Wolf Pack in the first-ever meeting between the two programs at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Golden Eagles, listed as a four seed for this event, lost a total of just two games since the middle of December as they ran away with the best record in the Summit League this year at 17-1, the lone setback coming against South Dakota State on the road on Feb. 2. During the Summit League Tournament the top-seeded Golden Eagles managed to get by IPFW (71-67) in the quarterfinals but then bowed to Western Illinois on March 5 in the semifinals, 54-53.
As for the Wolf Pack, into the postseason for the ninth time in the last 10 years as the fifth seed in this tourney, they too cruised through their league slate in the Western Athletic Conference, sporting a 13-1 record. At one point the team tied a program record with 16 consecutive wins, matching the mark set by the 1965-66 program, but still the squad was fighting an uphill battle just to gain recognition beyond the WAC.
Winning six of its final seven games of the regular season, Nevada was easily the top seed in the conference tournament and showed it with a 54-44 win over San Jose State in the quarterfinals. However, the following day the team was stubbed by Louisiana Tech, 78-73, ending its dream of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada is appearing in the NIT for the fifth time overall, the team sporting a 3-4 mark in the event after producing a 3-1 record in opening-round games. Two years ago, the Pack took down Wichita State on the road (74-70) before losing to Rhode Island (85-83).
As for the Golden Eagles, they are participating in the NIT for the eighth time, the team putting up a record of only 2-7 with single wins in both 1972 and 1975.
The winner of this meeting will advance to the second round where it will clash with the survivor of the Bucknell/Arizona matchup.
All five starters for the Wolf Pack earned WAC accolades in one manner or another this season, with Deonte Burton claiming the highest honor as the WAC Player of the Year. Along with Burton on the All-WAC First-Team is Olek Czyz, while Dario Hunt was picked All-WAC Second Team for the second straight year and earned a spot on the all-defensive unit for the third year in a row as well. Burton averaged close to 33 minutes per game as he led the program in scoring (14.9 ppg) and was also first in assists (137) and steals (37). Malik Story, named All-WAC Honorable Mention, was second on the squad in scoring with 14.2 ppg, thanks to his impressive 42.1 percent accuracy behind the three-point line. Czyz (13.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) had some tough games down the stretch and watched his perimeter accuracy sink to just 27.5 percent, but still the team as a whole connected on 36.8 percent on the outside. Czyz and Hunt (10.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg) also had their problems at the free-throw line and because of them the team dipped to just 64.6 percent at the charity stripe.
Looked to as a preseason All-America selection, Dominique Morrison was the one who held the Golden Eagles all together with his 20.0 ppg on 49.2 percent shooting from the floor. Morrison, a 2,000-point scorer for his career, has been a fantastic producer from every angle for ORU, from clearing 4.3 rpg and playing a part in the passing game (53 assists), to shooting 43.3 percent behind the three-point line and 82.1 percent at the free-throw line. Clearly Morrison was the top player for the Golden Eagles this season, but the team also relied on Warren Niles (12.2 ppg), Michael Craion (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Steven Roundtree (10.1 ppg) as well, the latter accounting for 5.4 rpg and shooting an impressive 58.2 percent from the floor while coming off the bench in the majority of the outings. Roderick Pearson (8.3 ppg) focused more on spreading the wealth (122 assists) than he did his own scoring, which might be why he shot just 26.6 percent behind the three-point line.
Since the beginning of the 2002-03 campaign, the Golden Eagles have been a dominant force at home, losing just 18 times in 128 opportunities which means Nevada will have its hands full. However, the talent across the starting five for the Pack definitely has the talent to add to that loss tally.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nevada 72, Oral Roberts 68
03/14 10:35:32 ET
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