Let’s face it: “I told you so” always sounds better in March.
Valparaiso, or possibly Monmouth, was the most disappointed team in the country on Selection Sunday. In what appeared to be a trend, schools from power conferences collected most of the last few at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament. Mid-majors such as Valpo, which scheduled power schools and dominated its league only to be upset in the conference tournament, got snubbed.
Valpo could get the last laugh yet. Shane Hammink scored seven of his 10 points in the last six minutes and blocked a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Crusaders topped Brigham Young, 72-70, in the NIT semifinals before 8,298 Tuesday night at the Garden. In Thursday’s 7 p.m. final, the Crusaders (30-6) meet George Washington (27-10), which downed San Diego State, 65-46, in the other semi.
GW’s Tyler Cavanaugh had nine of his 20 points as the Colonials closed the half with a 16-4 run for a 35-20 halftime lead. The Aztecs (28-10) trailed by 13 or more for the entire second half.
“We’re over it at this point,” Valparaiso’s Alec Peters said of Selection Sunday. “Right now we’re playing for an NIT championship, which in my mind is almost better than getting to the first round of the NCAA Tournament and losing. We have a chance of winning our last game, which not very many teams get to say.”
Some teams among the final at-large picks did well in the NCAA early rounds, and Valpo certainly looks as if it could have been one. It had to sweat this one out, though.
After an 18-9 run put BYU ahead for the first time, at 64-63, Hammink dunked on the next possession. BYU got one more lead at 68-67, but Hammink made a free throw to tie it with 1:04 left, then found David Skara for a go-ahead three with 20 seconds left. Chase Fisher made it 71-70 on a putback with 7.4 seconds left, but Hammink made a free throw with 4.7 left and blocked Fisher’s three at the buzzer.
Peters had 15 points and nine rebounds, Skara had a season-high 15 points and Keith Carter added 13.