NIT Second Round
Virginia Tech (20-14) at BYU (24-10)
Friday, 7:30 p.m., MDT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — BYU’s postseason scenario appears to be about as favorable as it can be for a team playing in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Cougars received a No. 2 seed and in their first-round matchup they defeated No. 7 UAB 97-79, Wednesday night at the Marriott Center.
Earlier that evening, No. 3 seed Virginia Tech outlasted No. 6 Princeton in overtime and then had to travel across the country for a quick turnaround Friday (7:30 p.m., MDT, ESPNU) for a second-round showdown with BYU in Provo.
Meanwhile, one of the teams that many observers believed should have made the NCAA tournament field this season, but didn’t, was St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies were regular-season co-champs of the Atlantic-10 Conference.
St. Bonaventure accepted a bid to the NIT and was given the No. 1 seed in BYU’s side of the bracket. But the Bonnies were upset by No. 8 seed Wagner Wednesday.
That means if BYU (24-10) is able to beat Virginia Tech Friday, it will host a third consecutive home game next week with a trip to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City on the line.
“With the way the (NIT) games turned out, if we can keep winning, hopefully we can end up back in New York and we’ll see what happens there,” said coach Dave Rose. “But we have a big one on Friday to get through first … It will be a real challenge here on Friday.”
Virginia Tech (20-14) is led by junior forward Zach LeDay, who averages 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Seth Allen scores 14.5 points per game and Justin Bibbs averages 11.9 for the Hokies.
It marks the first time the Cougars are hosting a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference since 2009, when they fell to nationally-ranked Wake Forest.
“We have a good ACC team coming in here,” said BYU guard Chase Fischer, who scored 27 points against UAB.
“It’s a team that’s playing really well and we look forward to that game,” Rose said.
Rose and Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams are good friends, dating back to their days when Rose was a BYU assistant and Williams was an assistant at Colorado State.
In 2012, the Cougars and Marquette, which was coached by Williams at that time, met in the NCAA tournament. The Golden Eagles won 88-68.
Meanwhile, BYU and Virginia Tech have a recent history. The Cougars beat the Hokies in Blacksburg, Virginia 70-68 in 2012. The following year, BYU downed Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City 97-71.
Now, the Cougars have the Hokies at the Marriott Center.
BYU loved the crowd support — announced attendance Wednesday was 8,420 and a larger crowd is expected Friday — it has received. The fans helped propel the Cougars to a big first-half lead against UAB, which included a few rim-rattling dunks.
“That’s why playing at home is nice,” said guard Kyle Collinsworth, who recorded his 12th career triple-double Wednesday. “When you make plays like that its gives us momentum and we can feed off the crowd.”
“One thing I was really impressed with was our crowd. We had a great turnout," Rose said. "The whole bottom section was full and it was loud. There was a great feel to the gym and the atmosphere and our guys responded well to it. I’m really appreciative to the fans who showed up (Wednesday). Hopefully we’ll get another good crowd in here Friday night. It’s not very often that we get an ACC team to travel to Provo and play in the Marriott Center.”
The Cougars knocked down 13 3-pointers against UAB, with seven of those coming from Fischer.
For BYU, the prospect of playing three consecutive home games in the NIT would be ideal.
“It's huge. (Wednesday) we had a really good crowd and I’m sure it will just get better,” Fischer said. “One of the most underrated aspects of college basketball that people don’t really see because it’s behind the scenes, is traveling, getting used to a new gym and a new feel. It can really take its toll on your body and mentally. So to be here and everyone sleeping in their own bed and staying in the same routine, we know what we’re doing today and the next day. It means a lot to play here … We want to keep the season going. The fans were awesome once again. That gives us a little motivation to keep playing hard.”
The Cougars are hoping that their hot shooting, and their fans at the Marriott Center, can carry them all the way to New York City.