Four squads, including Vols, vie for shot to play at Madison Square Garden
The Tennessee men's basketball team will be hosting this year's Dick's Sporting Goods South NIT in Thompson-Boling Arena.
This year's NIT includes Tennessee, Belmont, Missouri State, and Arkansas State. Tip-off starts at 7 p.m. tonight when Arkansas State takes on Missouri State, immediately followed by the Vols' game against Belmont.
The winner of these games will face each other for a chance to travel to the mecca of college basketball — Madison Square Garden in New York City — to participate in the semifinals of the NIT.
"This is the first year, I really think since we got here, that we have 13 guys on scholarship," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Maybe it's happened once before, 14 guys that have an opportunity to be in the regular rotation legitimately. From that standpoint, it is our deepest team."
The Vols played UTC in their season opener, winning 82-62. Tobias Harris stood out with an 18-point performance. The freshman Harris scored in many ways for the Vols, including inside the paint, at the free-throw line and beyond the arc. Harris' performance showed that he will be an integral part of the Volunteer offense this season.
"Tobias is special," Pearl said. "He's super solid. A good coach will get him more shots, and our coaches will try to get him some more looks."
Belmont has been very successful in recent years, winning three consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference postseason championships from 2006 to 2008. The Bruins play against the Vols this year without former star Alex Renfroe, who signed with a Croatia team after the 2009-10 season.
"It is exciting to open in the NIT Season Tip-Off," Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said. "The NIT is a great event to be a part of and I know our players will look forward to this experience."
The Arkansas State Red Wolves lost their opener against the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels were down in the second half and came back to win the game with a 68-60 victory. The Red Wolves were led by junior Martavius Adams, who scored 14 against Ole Miss.
The Missouri State Bears won their first game of the season 78-61. The Bears starters all scored in the double digits, and the Bears never trailed against Oral Roberts. Turnovers were a factor in the game, though, as the Bears turned the ball over 15 times.