Belmont (24-9) at Green Bay (24-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 18, 8:15 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Resch Center (9,877) -- Green Bay, Wisconsin. Television: ESPN3.com. NIT Record: Belmont 0-1, Green Bay 1-2. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The first round of the National Invitation Tournament will pit the fifth-seeded Belmont Bruins against the fourth-seeded Green Bay Phoenix in the St. John's quadrant of the bracket at the Resch Center.
The winner of this game will advance to the second round and will meet the winner of the top-seeded St. John's versus eighth-seeded Robert Morris clash.
Belmont earned an automatic bid to the NIT by winning the regular-season title in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Bruins were going for an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, but were defeated in the OVC title game, 79-73, by Eastern Kentucky on March 8.
Like Belmont, Green Bay was awarded an automatic bid to the NIT with a regular-season championship in the Horizon League. But the Phoenix were ousted from their conference postseason by eventual champion Milwaukee, 73-66 in overtime, and didn't earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This is the first-ever meeting between the Bruins and the Phoenix on the hardwood.
Belmont was the outright favorite to win the OVC title and the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, but there was some stiff competition from teams like Murray State, Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State. The Colonels were the hottest team when they got to the title game, and Belmont found out the hard way. EKU went up on the Bruins, 36-28, at the end of the first half, and was seemingly able to go basket-for-basket with Belmont in the second half, earning the championship crown. J.J. Mann scored a team-high 18 points in the loss to Eastern Kentucky, while Drew Windler and Evan Bradds each chipped in 14 points, Bradds added 10 rebounds for the double-double, and Reece Chamberlain rounded out the Belmont double-digit scorers with 13 points.
Mann had a stellar season for the Bruins, as he enters this game against Green Bay with a team-leading 18.3 ppg average, complemented by a team-best 69 steals. Craig Bradshaw adds 15.2 ppg, Chamberlain chips in 11.4 ppg, and Windler contributes 10.1 ppg to the team. Belmont found no shortage of offense on the season, averaging 80.2 ppg through 33 games played, and gave up just 74.3 ppg to opponents. Chamberlain tops the team with 150 assists, and Blake Jenkins leads the team in rebounding at 4.8 boards per contest.
Green Bay was the host program of the Horizon League Tournament, which made the loss to intrastate rival Milwaukee that much more disappointing. The Panthers got some strong contributions from veteran players all the way through to the Horizon League championship, taking down Green Bay in the process. Greg Mays led the Phoenix in the game with 17 points, adding nine rebounds to his stat line. Keifer Sykes, who was one of the better all-around players in the conference and a top scorer in the Horizon League, netted 15 points, and Carrington Love chipped in 12 before fouling out. Green Bay shot just 35 percent in the loss.
It was an unfortunate ending for the Phoenix and Sykes, who dominated Horizon League competition all season. Sykes enters the contest against Belmont with a team-best 20.3 ppg, adding a Phoenix-high 147 assists to his resume. Alec Brown was second with 15.6 ppg, and Mays contributed 10.2 ppg. Jordan Fouse was the team's leading rebounder at 7.6 rpg, and added a team-best 66 steals. The Phoenix pride themselves on a solid scoring defense, giving up just 64 ppg to opponents.
The homecourt advantage really helps out in this NIT contest. Many thought a win this year over now top-seeded Virginia would have propelled the Phoenix into the Big Dance, but it wasn't enough. Belmont's top-notch offense going against Green Bay's scoring defense will be an epic battle, but having a friendly environment should be a significant contributor for the Phoenix.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Green Bay 77, Belmont 74
03/18 10:30:51 ET