NIT matchup brings blast from the past

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia received an NIT invite Sunday night, one that resurrects memories of the program’s Big East days.

The Mountaineers (17-15) visit Georgetown (17-14) on Tuesday night in the opening round of the NIT, a consolation gift for two programs that held out slight NCAA hopes in recent weeks. Tip-off is 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Both teams enter having dropped five of their last seven games and seeking to rebound from embarrassing losses in their conference tournaments.

West Virginia’s 66-49 ouster by Texas in the Big 12 quarterfinals stung because Bob Huggins’ team fell behind early, trailed by 30 and was never competitive. Georgetown’s 60-56 loss to DePaul in the Big East hurt because it came against, well, DePaul—a last-placed team that had not beaten the Hoyas since 1994.

“We’re happy to be able to continue play in the postseason,” Huggins said. “Obviously, we are playing a team that we are familiar with and a team that is familiar with us from our Big East battles. We’ve had great games recently with Georgetown and in Washington, D.C., at the NCAA tournament. Mountaineer Nation has always turned out in great numbers in games there, and I know they will be there on Tuesday.”

The fan numbers can’t be too great, however. Because the Verizon Center has a previous commitment, the NIT game will be played at the 2,500-seat McDonough Arena, a campus gym where the Hoyas practice. (It also hosted a Dwight Eisenhower inaugural ball.)

West Virginia is the No. 5 seed and Georgetown No. 4 in the Florida State quadrant. The survivor meets the winner of FSU and Florida Gulf Coast—yes, that Florida Gulf Coast—in the second round. Other matchups in the quadrant include No. 2 seed Georgia hosting Vermont and No. 3 seed Louisiana Tech hosting Iona. Three wins gets a team to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four, where West Virginia won the NIT in 2007.

The Mountaineers and Hoyas share two common opponents this season: Georgetown smoked Kansas State 90-63 in the Puerto Rico Tip-off in November, then lost at Kansas 86-64 on Dec. 21.

Though West Virginia has won the last five meetings against Georgetown dating back to 2009, the Hoyas lead the series 26-25.

“I wish it was not an old foe, just because there is very much a familiarity with how we do things and how they do things, but we’re excited,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III told the Washington Post on Sunday night. “There are many teams whose season is over right now. Are we where we want to be? No. But are we still playing and looking for a championship? Yes.”

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