By Kevin Sweeney
A balanced attack and a dominant second half helped George Washington capture the 2016 NIT Championship, beating Valparaiso 76-60. It is the first postseason tournament championship in program history.
After a whirlwind regular season that featured impressive wins and troubling losses, the Colonials were left with on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, from the start of this NIT run, George Washington played spirited basketball and proved that they belonged in the field. However, to earn the championship, the Colonials had to face a 30-win Valparaiso who was still smarting from an NCAA Tournament snub of its own.
The teams traded blows in what was a very even first half. After a 3-pointer by Alex Mitola gave the Colonials an early 9 point lead, the Crusaders responded, using a 12-3 run to even the score at 24 with 5:23 to go in the first half. However, the Valparaiso faithful held their collective breath as second leading scorer Keith Carter left the game with just over 5 minutes to play with what seemed to be a foot injury. Neither team shot the ball effectively in the first half, as both teams shot under 40% from the field. The half ended with the Colonials leading 32-31.
Carter returned to the game to start the second half, but George Washington seized the momentum. A 3 by Matt Hart have the Colonials a 12 point lead with 12:26 to play. From their, George Washington kept control, maintaining a double-digit lead the rest of the way. For the Crusaders, nothing seemed to flow offensively. Leading scorer Alec Peters scored just 2 points in the second half, and no player for Valpo scored more than 6. On the other hand, George Washington got hot, with senior big man Kevin Larsen leading the charge. He scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, knocking down 6-6 from the line in the half.
Each team concludes its season with the confidence of a deep tournament run. However, both squads will have a lot of holes to fill. George Washington loses 3 of its top 4 scorers, while Valparaiso loses Carter. The Crusaders do return Horizon League Player of the Year Alec Peters. However, in a day in age of college basketball with lots of transfers and impact freshman, expect both teams to be good again next year.