– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — Almost three weeks after the disappointment of not reaching its ultimate goal, the Texas Longhorns basketball team turned the lack of an NCAA Tournament in their immediate future into an opportunity to still become — and be called — a champion before the end of its season.
Completing a dominant postseason run, Texas rounded out its season by placing four players in double figures in scoring, led by 19 points by forward Dylan Osetkowski, to defeat Lipscomb 81-66 in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. The win marked the Longhorns’ second-ever postseason championship, adding to the NIT title it won back in 1978.
“Our team has gone through a lot of twists and turns this year, and those guys were extremely disappointed with the way that we ended the regular season,” said Texas head coach Shaka Smart, 71-66 in four seasons in Austin. “So to see those guys so happy and excited and connected with each other, really throughout this whole tournament, it says a lot about them and a lot about their character.”
Osetkowski added 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals against the Bisons, while guard Kerwin Roach II added to his 22 points in the semifinal win against TCU with 16 points and nine assists on his way to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Longhorns had 23 assists on their 28 made baskets, while holding Lipscomb to just 39 percent shooting (22-for-56).
Star guard Garrison Mathews, who became the first player to have back-to-back 30-point games in the tournament since 2011, was held to just 15 points while missing eight of his 10 shots from the field. (He did make all 10 of his free throws.) Fellow senior Rob Marberry led the Bisons with 17 points, finishing up his two games at Madison Square Garden with 31 points combined on 14-of-21 shooting.
Mathews and Marberry are two of five seniors who played their last game for the Bisons, who have put the small school from Nashville on the basketball map the past few seasons. Becoming a full NCAA basketball-playing member in 2001, the Bisons earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth last season while giving blue blood North Carolina all it could handle in the first round. The team followed it up with a 29-win season, but one that fell short of a conference championship when it lost in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament final at home to Liberty.
Like three weeks ago, the Bisons once again ended up being one win away from earning a championship.
“I told them, my real message to them was the absolute only thing to be sad about is that it’s over. That’s it,” said Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander. “We had an expectation to win the game. We thought we could win the game. We’re disappointed we didn’t win the game. We’re disappointed we didn’t play better, but the only thing to be sad about is this team doesn’t have any more days together.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 22 pictures in total.