MSU reaches NIT, plays Nebraska in rematch of exhibition game

Nebraska's Thomas Allen, left, stands with MSU's Tyson Carter.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State is getting the chance to play postseason basketball once again following a six-year absence.

The Bulldogs learned on Sunday night that they will host Nebraska on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the first round of the 2018 National Invitation Tournament. It marks the first time State has appeared in any postseason tournament since it played in the 2012 NIT.

“We’re excited to be in the postseason,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “This is a good step for us. We’re disappointed it’s not the NCAA Tournament, but the NIT is a great tournament.”

The Bulldogs (22-11) are somewhat familiar with their first-round opposition in the event. They hosted Nebraska (22-10) in an exhibition game prior to this season. The Cornhuskers defeated State 76-72.

Yet Howland says the two teams’ first meeting doesn’t hold much weight at this point.

“That was a long time ago,” Howland said. “That was like three weeks into (preseason) practice. It was a great game for us and for both teams, but we’ve both evolved and changed. At the end of the day though, they’ve had a lot of success and we’ve had some of our own.”

Howland anticipates the Bulldogs will be a bit shorthanded to start the NIT. Freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon, who was injured in MSU’s Southeastern Conference Tournament game against Tennessee on Friday, has a hip contusion. Howland doesn’t anticipate Weatherspoon will play Wednesday, however the Bulldogs aren’t closing the door completely on Weatherspoon’s season.

“If we’re playing in New York (at the NIT semifinals and finals) and (Weatherspoon) can make it back (he might play),” Howland said. “We’re not going to rush him back. We’re going to be very conservative as we would with any injury, but there’s no plan to shut him down. We’re hoping there is a possibility he can still play at some point, which means we won.”

State’s road to New York would be a difficult one. Should MSU defeat Nebraska on Wednesday, the Bulldogs would then likely be facing a road game at Baylor, one of the NIT’s four No. 1 seeds, in the second round. Baylor faces Wagner on Tuesday.

Yet challenges are what the postseason is all about. MSU isn’t in the big dance like it hoped would be the case a couple of weeks back, but the Bulldogs are happy to still be playing and getting the chance to face the obstacles that await them in the NIT.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Howland said. “When you look at the field in this tournament, there are definitely some teams in this tournament that are worthy of being in the NCAA Tournament. It’s going to be very tough.”