After a dominating 90-71 victory over Northern Iowa Saturday, No. 2 seeded BYU advanced to the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals.
The only question was, who, and where, would the Cougars (24-10) be playing next.
That answer came Sunday afternoon, when No. 4 seeded Washington State upset No. 1 Southern Methodist 75-63 in Dallas, snapping the Mustangs’ 19-game homecourt winning streak.
So BYU and WSU will square off Wednesday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at the Marriott Center, with a trip to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City at stake.
Coach Mark Pope wanted to have one more game at the Marriott Center after drawing 5,511 fans for the Long Beach State game and 7,554 fans against UNI.
“For the people that aren’t coming to the games right now, I almost feel bad for them because the gym is super special,” Pope said Saturday night. “It’s great, right? We’re hoping that we get to play in here again. If we get to play in here again, it’s going to be great.”
Had SMU won, BYU would have had to travel to Dallas for a quarterfinal matchup.
BYU will be hoping for more support from the home crowd this week.
“As incredible as this might sound, Alex Barcello is going to remember our fans from these two games just as much as he’s going to remember our fans from Gonzaga two years ago and Saint Mary’s (earlier) this year,” Pope said. “It’s special to play in this gym.”
Washington State (21-14) never trailed against the Mustangs and it led by 19 at halftime. The Mustangs stormed back to cut the deficit to four points with less than three minutes to play, but WSU hung on for the win. Michael Flowers poured in a game-high 22 points for the Cougars.
Before beating SMU, Washington State defeated West Coast Conference opponent Santa Clara 63-50 at home in the first round of the NIT last Tuesday.
WSU coach Kyle Smith previously coached at San Francisco, where he posted a 2-4 record against BYU. Smith is in his third season at WSU.
BYU has scored 90-plus points in both of its NIT games. On Saturday Gideon George scored a career-high 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field and 5 of 9 shots from 3-point range.
Trevin Knell knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers and as a team, BYU tied its season-high with 16 3-pointers.
In the NIT, BYU has played some of its best basketball of the year. The Cougars were disappointed to be left out of the NCAA Tournament, but they are certainly making the most of their experience in the NIT.
“The NIT is complicated … We don’t get to choose the NCAA Tournament. All we can choose is to win and get better in the NIT or to lose. Then you look at this boxscore and look at this game,” Pope said. “You don’t think Gideon George is growing right now and teasing us with what he’s going to become in the next 12 months? That’s valuable. It’s really meaningful to me that our two best players the last two games have been Gideon George and Caleb Lohner. That is BYU basketball’s future, a big chunk of it.”
Now BYU will face WSU this week for the right to go to the Big Apple.
“We’ll try to win one more game,” Pope said. “I think the guys are excited to get to New York.”