The Memphis Tigers became national champions on Sunday, taking down the Mississippi State Bulldogs 77-64 in the men’s NIT. Memphis won the NIT for the first time since 2002 and has now has taken the consolation prize twice in school history. The Tigers entered NIT as a No. 1 seed, but the powerhouse didn’t have an easy time taking home the hardware. Memphis and Tennessee were knotted at 33 at the end of the first half of Sunday’s game but build a sizable lead in the second half.
Memphis and Mississippi State were knotted at 33 at the midpoint of the contest, and the underdogs’ top two scorers opened up with some terrible shooting. The Tigers’ usual leaders also struggled, so underclassmen had to step up on both sides.
Boogie Ellis led the way for Memphis and poured in a game-high 23 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The sophomore guard was 4-for-7 from deep and paced his team with five assists, while the majority of his teammates struggled to convert the chances he created. The Tigers shot just 42.6% from the field, but Ellis’s efforts helped them win the second half by 18 points.
MSU shot just 38.2% from the field. Iverson Molinar and DJ Stweart — their two leading scorers — usually combine for an average of more than 32 points per game, but had just 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting in the championship game. True freshmen Cameron Matthews and Deivon Smith managed to crack the Tigers’ top-notch defense down the stretch and tallied 36 points on 44.8% shooting.
Memphis might've hoped to be competing in the NCAA Tournament this year when it began, but winning a championship for Penny Hardaway and a program still building a base for a future isn’t a bad way to cap off a season.