Wolverines electric in 74-68 NIT Quarterfinal victory over Cincinnati
Reading Time: 3 minutes Utah Valley University faced off against the University of Cincinnati in the Quarterfinal round of the National Invitational Tournament on Wednesday.
In the first-ever National Invitational Tournament game hosted at the UCCU Center, the Utah Valley University men’s basketball team defeated the University of Cincinnati Bearcats 74-68 on Wednesday in the NIT Quarterfinal.
“I am so proud of these guys. I am so proud of these players,” said head coach Mark Madsen. “Them being here right now, the success that they’ve had this year collectively, individually, they’ve earned it. They’ve earned every bit of it. As a coach, as a coaching staff, we’re just incredibly proud of these players because they have embraced winning and it has been just so much fun for everybody.”
Trey Woodbury and Justin Harmon each had 17 points, Aziz Bandaogo scored 15 and Tim Fuller scored 12 points in what was an impressive offensive showing for the Wolverines. UVU shot 45.5 FG% and 29.4 3P% but held the Bearcats to just 34.2 FG% and 24 3P%. The Wolverines outrebounded UC 46-40.
Harmon got things started for the Wolverines off the tip, getting the lucky bounce on a step-back three-point jumper. Both teams battled on the glass, with the Wolverines gaining a slight 19-15 advantage. After a deep three-pointer from Woodbury, Harmon crossed over his defender, dropping him to the floor before splashing a step-back three-pointer, spurring on a 6-0 and putting the Wolverines ahead 20-10 amidst a 3:31 Bearcat scoring drought.
Woodbury and Harmon were dominant for the Wolverines in the opening half, scoring a combined 22 of the Wolverine’s 39 points. Much to the delight of the home crowd, it was an absolute dunk fest, as the UVU threw it down eight times before the break, including a ¾ court lob from Harmon to Tim Fuller.
The Bearcats leading scorers were on their game, as David DeJulius scored 12 first-half points and Landers Nolley II scored 11 on 3-7 from three-point land. Viktor Lakhin, the Bearcats center, who came into the matchup averaging 11.7 ppg, picked up his third foul with 4:12 remaining and was forced to sit the remainder of the period scoreless.
Harmon opened up the second half similar to the first, this time with a steal and slam for UVU. After that play, however, the Wolverines went 2:54 without scoring, which opened the gate for an 8-0 Bearcat run to knot the game at 41. Tahj Small finally got things rolling for UVU as he scored four of their next six points in addition to a three-pointer from Le’Tre Darthard to spur on a 7-2 Wolverine run. Nolley II had the answer for UC as he buried a three-pointer on the other end to stifle the Wolverine’s momentum. With 8:44 remaining leading 56-51, Bandaogo sent a second-chance attempt by DeJulius to the moon with a monster block, followed up by a backdoor over the top lob to Fuller who put it down, electrifying the UVU crowd.
After Bandaogo hit a free throw to give the Wolverines their first double-digit lead of the night, they went ice-cold, going on a 5:27 span without a made field goal, scoring only on free throws. The Wolverine defense, however, locked up at the right time and UVU was able to maintain their lead during that span. Bandaogo finally broke the Wolverine’s cold spill with 1:39 remaining, cashing in on a post hook to put UVU up 68-61.
“Composure. Composure is what we always talk about. For the most part, we had great composure late game,” said Madsen. “We got stops, we made some free throws and we took care of the ball.”
Things got chippy on the ensuing Wolverine possession, as Darthard and DeJulius were assessed double technical fouls for a heated argument on the court. Darthard would eventually be ejected from the contest after he received his second technical with just seconds remaining.
Free throws were huge down the stretch, and before Darthard was ejected he hit two monumental ones to push the Wolverine lead to six points with 37.4 seconds remaining. In addition to Darthard, Bandaogo cashed in on clutch free throws to help put Cincinnati away and win this one 74-68.
The crowd at the UCCU Center tonight was an absolute spectacle, and both Madsen and Cincinnati head coach Wes Miller had something to say about it.
“That was a heck of an environment. We have played in some great environments and that was a heck of an environment,” said Miller. “This was special tonight. It was loud, they were into it and they supported their team.”
“This atmosphere tonight and the BYU home game two years ago were the two best atmospheres and crowds I have ever seen,” said Madsen.
UVU advances to the semi-final round of the NIT to face UAB next Tuesday. The final three games of the NIT will be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Wolverines semi-final matchup versus UAB will tip off on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. MT and will air on ESPN2.