NIT: Pack draws Oral Roberts in opener | NevadaAppeal.com

NIT: Pack draws Oral Roberts in opener

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has a New York state of mind right now.

“We’re trying to get to Madison Square Garden and play for a championship,” senior forward Olek Czyz said.

The Wolf Pack will travel to Tulsa, Okla., this week to take on the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night (6:15 p.m., 630-AM, ESPN3.com). The Pack is just three victories in the 32-team tournament away from playing at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Final Four on March 27, 29.N

“Playing at Madison Square Garden is something you may never get a chance to do again in your career,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “This is a very prestigious tournament.”

The Wolf Pack (26-6) and Golden Eagles (27-6) are both coming off disappointing conference tournaments last week. Oral Roberts won the Summit League regular season title with a 17-1 record and then lost in the conference tournament semifinals to Western Illinois, 54-53. The Wolf Pack won the Western Athletic Conference regular season title with a 13-1 record and lost in the tournament semifinals to Louisiana Tech 78-73 last Friday night in Las Vegas.

“We’re disappointed we didn’t go to the NCAA tournament but a lot of seniors are done playing at this point and we’re still playing,” Czyz said. “We still have a chance to go out and compete for something special.”

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The Wolf Pack will be making its fifth trip to the NIT after having previously gone in 1979, 1997, 2003 and 2010. The Pack is 3-4 in NIT games with all three victories coming on the road.

“We’re used to traveling,” said senior center Dario Hunt, the only current member of the Wolf Pack along with reserve guard Patrick Nyeko to see action in the Pack’s NIT games in 2010. “It’s no big deal.”

Oral Roberts, which will be making its eighth trip to the NIT, is a perfect 15-0 at home this year and has won 20 of its last 22 games. The Golden Eagles won 13 in a row from Dec. 18 through Jan. 28.

“Nevada is very talented and well-coached,” said long-time (17 years) ORU coach Scott Sutton. “We’re very excited. You don’t get an opportunity like this very often.”

The Golden Eagles, which beat then eighth-ranked Xavier 64-42 on the road in December, have averaged 4,629 fans this season at their Mabee Center. The 40-year-old arena seats more than 11,000 for basketball.

“That is going to be a tough place to get a win,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack won 16 in a row from Nov. 26 through Feb. 2. “I was hoping we’d get a home game but it didn’t happen that way.”

The Wolf Pack-Oral Roberts winner will play the Arizona-Bucknell winner sometime between March 15-19. The Pack is the fifth seed in its eight-team corner of the NIT and Oral Roberts is the fourth seed. Arizona is the top seed followed by No. 2 St. Joseph’s and No. 3 Stanford. Cleveland State is sixth, Illinois State is seventh and Bucknell is eighth.

Oral Roberts isn’t very big (no Golden Eagle is over 6-foot-9) or deep (they play just eight players).

They are led by 6-foot-6 forward Dominique Morrison who is averaging 20.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists, point guard Roderick Pearson (6-2), who is averaging 8.3 points and 3.7 assists and 6-4 shooting guard Warren Niles, who chips in with 12.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Forward Michael Craion (6-5) gets 11.0 points and 6.3 rebounds each game and center Damen Bell-Holter (6-9) pulls down 5.9 rebounds and scores 7.8 points a game. Sixth man Steve Roundtree, a 6-8 forward who might start against the bigger Wolf Pack, is averaging 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.

The Golden Eagles, because of their upset loss to Western Illinois, are the first Summit League team to fall short of the conference tournament championship game since 1993 when the league was known as the Mid-Continent Conference.

“We still have a lot to play for the rest of the season,” Sutton said.

The Wolf Pack is taking that same attitude.

“We’re getting a second chance to redeem ourselves,” Czyz said.

“This time last year I was at home watching other teams play,” Hunt added. “It’s just good to still be playing.”

NIT

WHO: Nevada (26-6) at Oral Roberts (27-6)

WHEN: 6:15 p.m. Wednesday

WHAT: First round of the National Invitation Tournament

TV: ESPN3.com